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Scenes From a Baseball Game

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(or, David Versus the Foul Ball)

Tim Lincecum

The Crowd

Troy Tulowitzki

These photos were taken the last day of May, when the Colorado Rockies played the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco's pitching ace, struggled that day, unable to snap a string of bad outings. He gave up four runs in 5-2/3 innings. It was still amazing to watch him pitch, but it would have been more amazing if he had pitched well.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado's undefeated starter, threw a complete game shutout, allowing only four hits (three of them to Pablo Sandoval). His performance was awe-inspiring and it helped the Rockies win, 4 - 0.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Travis Ishikawa, the Giants first baseman, came in to pinch hit for the relief pitcher. On the third pitch, the left-handed batter hooked a foul ball along the first base line.

It arced slowly, seeming to pause at its peak. Our section rose as one, eyes on the ball that hung in the sky like the moon.

As I stared at it, my thoughts travelled back to my college physics lectures and the numerous baseball trajectory examples the professor covered -- all of them limited to two dimensions.

I was pondering if the third dimension was taught in the advanced course when the ball unfroze and plunged straight towards me, along the critical z-axis.

I suddenly regretted dismissing M's suggestion to bring a glove. "It's too late. I already locked the front door," I said as we walked to the car. It's funny how bulletproof reasoning like that makes a poor substitute for good old-fashioned leather.

I also regretted silently cheering when the people in front of us left during the top of the inning. It would have been nice to have a buffering hand or head.

The ball came directly at my sternum, an awful spot to field a ball, especially bare-handed. The best I could do was awkwardly reach out my cupped hands and brace for the impact and sting.

And how the ball stung as it struck my left hand, on the fleshy part below the thumb (what palm reader's call the Mount of Venus). It deflected off my hand and the hands of the guy in the row behind me, who knocked me in the head with his grab.

The ball landed between M's feet. A large black guy, two seats to our right, dove across his tiny Asian girlfriend and M to get it. He raised the ball above his head in victory and grinned.

"Wow! What strength and ability it must take to shove two women aside and lunge for a baseball," M said. The guy kept grinning and pretended to be deaf and dumb, though I doubt he had to fake the latter.

While it's tempting to rant about the lack of civility at sporting events, it would only obscure the moral of the story, which is this: Always bring a glove to a baseball game. Always. Otherwise, your only souvenirs will be a story of what could have been and a bruised palm.

Links:

  • MLB's game page: Box scores, videos, photos, and a summary from the game.
  • The Physics of Baseball: Links to articles and videos on the subject.
  • Rion.nu: The photoblog whose style I was trying to imitate. My story ruined it. I will have to imitate harder next time.

World Baseball Classic 2009

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Before Sunday night, I was only paying attention to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) peripherally.

The team that should have had me captivated (and cheering) -- Team USA -- held no sway. Every other day, I'd check to see if they were still in the competition, not out of genuine interest, but out of latent patriotism.

With the exception of Dustin Pedroia, Jimmy Rollins, and David Wright, they were a group of big name big leaguers I didn't care about. In fact, I was secretly hoping they would crash and burn early. It wasn't a ferverent hope, just a boy-that-would-be-nice-but-no-skin-off-my-nose-if-they-don't type of hope.

Much of my apathetic animosity towards Team USA stemmed from the fact that Tim Linecum, one of the best pitchers on the Giants and in the Majors, wasn't on the team. San Francisco had decided he was too valuable to spare. Their selfishness dashed my hopes of seeing Linecum sport the team's snazzy white jersey with the blue U and A and red-striped S (which stands for sternum) and the blue cap with the fiery AUS, just like the ones Derek Jeter is wearing in this flattering photo.

Derek Jeter can jump, throw, and chew gum at the same time!

The team that had me captivated (and cheering) -- Team Japan -- held too much sway. I don't know why, but something about baseball brings out my superstitious side. During the WBC, I got it into my head that I would jinx Japan if I watched any of their games. So, like an idiot, I didn't, which meant I missed the brilliance of familiar faces like Kenji Johjima, Ichiro Suzuki, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, as well as the splendiferousness of new faces like Norchika Aoki, Yu Darvish, and Hisashi Iwakuma.1 I kept tabs on their standings, but that was as far as I was willing to push my luck.

I only really started paying attention to the WBC Sunday night, when Team USA took on Team Japan. What stands out most in my mind about that game is the disparity in passion with which the two teams played. The US played like it was an exhibition game, without heart, something to finish as quickly as possible. Japan played like it was Game 7 of the World Series, where every swing, throw, and catch mattered.

The moment that epitomized America's attitude came in the bottom of the eighth inning. It was a play involving the right fielder, Adam Dunn. With two out and a man on first, Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a shallow fly ball to right field. Dunn seemed to be in position to make a play and if he had actually made an effort to go after the ball, I believe he could have cut it off, or, at the very least, looked heroic in the attempt. But he hardly made an effort. As soon as the ball hit the outfield grass, Dunn stopped. He just stopped and watched the ball bounce by him. It was as though he had given up in mid-stride.

In the time it took Shane Victorino to scoop up the ball, Ichiro scored all the way from first and Nakajima sailed into second. It was disheartening to see. That play summed up the American team's attitude towards the Classic: lackadaisical. Dunn would later strike out to end the game. The US lost to Japan, 9-4.

What made the championship game between Japan and Korea special was the spirit in which the teams competed. They played like everything was on the line. Every guy was eager to play and eager to win. It made for an exciting game.

The teams were closely matched and it was a tug-of-war from beginning to end. Japan scored first in the third. Korea tied it in the fifth. Japan took a one-run lead in seventh and added a run in the top of the eighth, but Korea responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning, and then tied the game in the ninth. Japan ultimately prevailed in the tenth, on a two-run single by Ichiro. The final was 5-3, a low score that betrays the amount of activity on the bases. In all, Korea left 5 runners on base; Japan stranded 14.

The two most memorable players of the game were Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, the starting pitcher. Ichiro was the spark, the dynamo. Besides driving in the winning runs, he went 4 for 6 (3 singles, 1 double). Iwakuma was the steady hand at the tiller. In nearly eight innings of work, he only allowed two walks, four hits, and two runs. Both men were key to Japan's victory.

This was Japan's second WBC championship. They won back in 2006 against Cuba (I even wrote a blurb about it). I only hope they bring the same energy and spirit to the next Classic in 2012.

1 I spent so much time looking up the correct spelling of the players' names, I thought it only right that I use a word like splendiferousness to make use of my dictionary and thesaurus as well.

Stephen Colbert on Jane Austen Baseball

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Last night, Stephen Colbert took my favorite sport (baseball) and one of my favorite authors (Jane Austen), liberally glued them together with comedy, and created a clip worth keeping...

And just in case the video disappears one day, I transcribed the best part of the clip:

"Austen wasn't writing about American baseball. It was a Jane Austen version, where the ball is not hurled about rudely, but introduced to the bat through proper channels at a society function. And one does not steal bases like a commoner; one sends word ahead to the next base by messenger, requesting permission to approach at the base's leisure. Of course, what the bat cannot reveal is that though he loves the ball desperately, he has sworn an oath of loyalty to the glove to whom the ball was promised. So the bat must pretend he hates the ball, swatting at it, though he wishes nothing more than to profess his undying affection, but he can't, he mustn't, he shan't! And so, the bat must retreat to the gardens of his estate and... pine."

Last week, M and I visited Boston for a few days. She went for work. I went for fun. (Unlike M, I had to pay my way, but if one were keeping score, I think I still came out ahead (not that I'm keeping score).)

On Tuesday, I left San Jose at 9:30 AM, had a four-hour layover in Dallas, and arrived in Boston around 11:30 PM. It wasn't the ideal way to go, but it was the least expensive way. During the flight and downtime in Dallas, I managed to get some work done (unofficially, of course), so the day wasn't a complete loss.

M arrived in Boston early the next morning and after she got settled in, we ventured over to Newbury Street, which was only two blocks away from our hotel. We were only across the street from the Boston Public Library, in the heart of Copley Place.

Boston Public Library

The highlight of our Newbury exploration was the discovery of the Life Is Good flagship store (a.k.a. Jake's House). I showed some restraint and only bought a cap. It says "Get Lost" and was 30% off.

The rest of the day was spent wandering through Chinatown and the Seaport District (where M's conference was happening).

Seaport District

That evening, we ate at Legal Sea Foods and Palm Restaurant (early dinner and late appetizers). (I'd recommend Legal over Palm any day.)

Thursday was my favorite day of the trip. I walked down Boylston Street, past the Berklee College of Music and Back Bay Fens, to visit historic Fenway Park. It was my first time there. I can't claim to be a lifelong Red Sox fan, but I've been a big fan ever since my first trip to Boston in 1993. (I was an impressionable 19-year-old, which seemed old then, but hardly seems so now.)

During my subsequent visits to the city, it was either not baseball season or the Red Sox weren't in town, so I never got to see them play at Fenway. This was the first time when they and I were in Boston at the same time, so I wanted to make the most of it.

To start things off, I took a tour of the park. Tours are $12 a person and they start on the hour (between 9 AM and 4 PM during the season). I caught the noontime tour and it was packed. Our group numbered in the fifties.

Our tour guide was an elderly gentleman named Steve. He must have been in his sixties, but he had the energy of a man decades younger. He told plenty of silly jokes, but also plenty of great stories about Fenway. A place can be saturated with all of the natural beauty and historical significance in the world, but they only represent two dimensions. To make it real, to bring it to life requires stories told by somebody who knows and loves it deeply. Steve was that somebody for Fenway. By the end of hour together, he and the park held a special place in my heart.

The park was built in 1912. The wall in left field, a.k.a. the Green Monster, was built in 1934 by the owner, Mr. Yawkey. He built it after receiving complaints about broken windows from neighbors and discovering fans peeking over the then ten-foot wall to watch the games for free. It's 37-feet high and 230-feet long. The seats atop the wall have been there for four years and there are 275 of them.

First View of the Diamond and Green Monster

The red seat in right field stands marks the spot where the longest home run in Fenway history landed. Ted Williams hit it in 1946. The seat is roughly 502-feet from home plate.

Failing to Blend In

The scoreboard is one of three manually-operated boards in the country . The same two guys have been running it for thirteen years. Over that time, they only missed one game. (One was getting married. The other was his best man.)

The Green Monster

Fenway has the shortest home run (302 feet to right) and the longest home run (420 feet to center). The right field foul pole is called Pesky's Pole, named after Johnny Pesky who hit 12 home runs in 12 years, just past that pole.

Steve told us that last story as we sat atop the Green Monster. From there, we got to sit on the oldest, most uncomfortable seats in the park. Personally, they are fine to look at, not to sit on.

By the time the tour wrapped up, I only had enough time to walk back to the hotel to grab a jacket before walking back to the park to wait in line for day-of-the-game tickets. I didn't even have time to stop at the gigantic Apple store on Boylston.

Apple Store on Boylston

Getting in line four hours before the game was good enough to get a chance to buy premium standing room tickets on the left field roof (not ideal, but still tickets).

From there, we saw the Red Sox pummel the Texas Rangers 10 - 0, thanks to an amazing nine-run second inning and stellar pitching by Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Home Scorecard - Red Sox

Friday started with breakfast at Finagle a Bagel. M had to prepare for her conference, so I took the T to Stony Brook for a tour of the Sam Adams Brewery, which is free and includes, besides a lesson about beer brewing, actual beer tasting.

Sam Adams Brewery Tour

After the tour, I met up with M and tagged along to her conference, spending the rest of the afternoon at the convention center. Later, we had dinner at the Bull and Finch Pub (a.k.a. Cheers).

Cheers

On Saturday, I only had enough time to pack before having to hop on the T to the airport. I left Boston at 11:30 AM, made stops in St. Louis and Santa Ana, and touched down in San Jose around 5:30 PM.

And that was my Boston trip.

A Few Thoughts on the Mitchell Report

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After letting the Mitchell Report and the potential repercussions it will have on major league baseball marinate over the weekend, I jotted down a few thoughts about it...

  • I will be very disappointed if no disciplinary action is taken. I realize George Mitchell urged Commissioner Bud Selig not to discipline players for past violations unless it threatened the integrity of the game, but I believe every instance of cheating threatens the game's integrity. It doesn't matter if it leads to a broken record, Cy Young award, or championship ring, or simply gives one player a spot on a big league roster over another player; it still undermines the game. To allow past cheating to occur without any consequences rubs me the wrong way and sends the wrong message to players and fans.
  • I don't think it's reasonable to believe that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens are going to be stripped of their awards, or that either of them will have asterisks placed on their records.
  • It only seems fair that any Clemens-tainted baseball, jersey, or glove in the Hall of Fame should receive a Marc Ecko stamp of approval.
  • I don't believe it's reasonable to expect Bud Selig to strip the Yankees of their championships during the years their roster was packed with the performance-enhanced players. Admittedly, it would give me a warm, fuzzy feeling if he did.
  • While the names of players listed will receive the most media attention, I believe there are two parts of Mitchell's report that deserve greater attention.

    The first is Section II (pages 4-17), which outlines the adverse effects of anabolic steroids and human growth hormones. It not only talks about the health threat they pose to individual athletes, it also talks about their threat to the integrity of the game. Mitchell includes a fitting quote by George F. Will:
    Athletes who are chemically propelled to victory do not merely overvalue winning, they misunderstand why winning is properly valued. Professional athletes stand at an apex of achievement, but their achievements are admirable primarily because they are the products of a lonely submission to a sustained discipline of exertion. Such submission is a manifestation of good character.
    The second section worthy of greater attention is Section XI (pages 285-306), which outlines Mitchell's recommendations. It covers investigating non-testing based allegations, addressing violations, and preventing future use through education. They are forward-looking recommendations to change the culture of the game. I sincerely hope Major League Baseball closely reviews them and implements them. With any luck, they will go above and beyond the recommendations to make baseball a leader when it comes to cracking down on performance enhancing drugs.
  • I realize that all we are talking about is a game. Yet it's a game closely associated with our national identity. To that end, I want baseball to be a sport that upholds certain ideals and values, like hard work, discipline, character, honesty, athleticism, and good sportsmanship. If they are values we want in our young athletes, then they should be values the league promotes and every player embodies.

RC Radio, Program Number 1: The Mitchell Report

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This is what happens when I listen to a baseball-related press conference and stumble upon some text-to-speech software on the same day -- I end up using my writing time to produce a by-the-seat-of-my-pants podcast.

Here's a link to the mp3, if the embedded file doesn't work. The audio is difficult to understand, so I have included a transcript of the program for handy reference...

Michael: Good afternoon and welcome to Random Curiosity Radio, podcasting from a computer in the 4-0-8, in 16 bit stereo, at 48kHz. This is Program Number 1. I'm Michael Mickelson.

Michelle: I'm Michelle DeLaRochelle.

Sam: And I am Microsoft Sam, no relation to Yosemite, though I don't like varmints.

Michael: We're here because David stumbled upon a text-to-speech program that is supposedly a "natural voice" reader.

Sam: I sound natural... right?

Michelle: Very.

Michael: Because this is our first episode, we are learning as we go. I thought we would begin with the story of the day: the release of the Mitchell Report on steroid use in major league baseball.

Sam: Excellent! Steroids in sports are a serious issue.

Michael: Yes it is, Sam. At a press conference today, former Senator George Mitchell outlined the findings from his investigation. He also listed some of the recommendations in his report, including...

Sam: Yes yes, that's all nice and fine, but people don't want to hear his recommendations! They want names!

Michael: We'll get to that in a second. I just wanted...

Sam: Names! I have them right here!

Michelle: Michael, maybe we should just let him read them to get it done and over with.

Michael: Fine. Go ahead, Sam.

Sam: Thank you. Um... in what order should I read them? Alphabetically or from shortest to tallest player?

Michael: Just read them!

Sam: Okay, okay. Mitchell named the following cheaters...

Michelle: Alleged.

Sam: Alleged cheaters. The list includes: Barry Bonds, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Jack Cust, Brendan Donnelly, Eric Gagne, Jason Giambi...

Michelle: Gone-yay and Gee-om-bee.

Sam: It isn't Gagne or Giambi?

Michelle: No, no it isn't.

Sam: Oops, my bad. Eric Gone-yay. and Jason Gee-Om-Be. Troy Glaus, David Justice, Chuck Knoblauch...

Michelle: Knob-lock.

Sam: Knob-lock? What type of name is knob-lock?

Michael: Just keep reading.

Sam: Okay. Paul Lo Duca, Gary Matthews Jr., Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield, and Miguel Tejada.

Michelle: Tay-hada.

Michael: Michelle! Please stop correcting him. Just be thankful there aren't any Japanese players on the list.

Sam: What? Why not? I don't have any problem pronouncing Hideki Matsui or Kosuke Fukudome.

Michelle: You're kidding, right?

Michael: We are nearly out of time. Michelle, why don't you give us a couple of key quotes from today's press conference?

Michelle: Thank you, Michael. During the conference, Mitchell said "a principal goal of this investigation is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball’s history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of performance enhancing substances." He also urged the Commissioner to forego imposing discipline on players for past violations of baseball’s rules, except in extreme cases where the integrity of the game is threatened.

Sam: Bull honkey!

Michael: And that's all the time we have. For Michelle DeLaRochelle and Microsoft Sam, I'm Michael Mickelson. This has been Random Curiosity Radio, Program Number 1. Thank you for listening!

Sam: Ya better say yer prayers, ya flea-bitten varmint! I'm a-gonna blow ya to smithereenies!

What Querying Minds Wanted to Know in November

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Every once in a while, I like to see what search terms bring folks here. As is often the case, 9 out of every 10 visitors come here by accident. These poor people were led astray by the God of Search Engines (a.k.a. Google). Feeling partially responsible for their predicament, I believe it's necessary to redeem myself occasionally and get them back on the right track. As I did last time, I have kept the queries intact, but have changed the names and places to make this feel more like an informal question and answer session. To the queries...

Alexander B. from Scotland wonders, "what are those devices everyone is wearing on their ears little phones or mp3 players?"

Contrary to popular belief, Alexander, those little devices you see people wearing aren't for talking on the phone or for listening to music. While euphemistically referred to as Bluetooth technology, they are actually the latest in brain seepage prevention technology. If they don't wear it, things can get very messy, very fast. If you see somebody wearing such a device, remember, don't stare or make fun. The individual doesn't deserve your contempt, he or she deserves your sympathy and understanding.

Craig B. from Texas wants to know, "who hit robby thompson in the face with a pitch?"

This is an easy one, Craig. According to this article, the culprit who hit Robby Thompson and broke his cheekbone was Trevor Hoffman.

E. Robertson from Ontario wants to know, "how do i get rid of unwanted pictures in my shoebox".

Here are my Top 5 recommended ways of getting rid of unwanted pictures in a shoe box (mp3), in order of preference:

  1. shredding
  2. tossing
  3. burning
  4. burying
  5. regifting

Diophantus of Alexandria queries, "shelby has eight fewer dimes than pennies and nineteen fewer dimes than nickels shelby has a total of $3.75 how many of each coin does she have?"

Diophantus, I'm not going to give you the final answer, although I'm sure it's out there on the web somewhere. Instead, I'll quickly walk you through how I would solve it...

1. First, I establish my variables: p for the number of pennies Shelby has, n for nickels, and d for dimes.

2. Next, I write my initial equation: .10d + .05n + .01p = 3.75.

3. Because it will be easier to solve for just one variable, I'm going to write p and n in terms of d. Shelby has eight fewer dimes than pennies. Therefore, p = d + 8. She also has nineteen fewer dimes than nickels (n = d + 19).

4. Substituting these back into the main equation, I get: .10d + .05(d + 19) + .01(d + 8) = 3.75.

5. Now all you need to do is simplify and solve for d and you'll know how many dimes Shelby has. From there, plug the number of dimes back into the two simpler equations and you'll get the number of pennies and nickels.

Carica P. from Mexico wants to know, "words that rhyme with papaya".

Carica, after a deep meditation session, here are my Top 5 words that rhyme with papaya...

  1. jambalaya
  2. Sanjaya
  3. pariah
  4. Mariah
  5. conspire (with the right mispronunciation)

Garth B. from Oklahoma queries, "looking for a country song with the lyrics swing batta batta swing in it".

Garth, the song you're looking for is "Swing" by Trace Adkins. I wrote about it last year, but I'm afraid the links I included are nothing more than a memory. Luckily, the song's music video is still available on YouTube...

Diophantus, if you're still reading this, Shelby has 17 dimes. And this is why I wouldn't make a good math teacher.

The Red Sox Return

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Boston is going to the World Series. Again. Finally.

After Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in the best of seven American League Championship Series, the chances of Boston mounting a comeback seemed doubtful. The winning momentum belonged to Cleveland and if the two clubs had played three games in a row at the visiting team's ballpark, I'm certain Cleveland would be the city celebrating today. But thanks to the bizarre day off between Games 4 and 5, it's a city with plenty of time to watch Major League while wondering what went wrong instead.

The day off not only gave Cleveland's momentum a chance to cool off, but it gave my badly bruised optimism a chance to recuperate. By the time Josh Beckett threw his first pitch in Game 5, I knew he was going to keep the Red Sox alive another day (technically two, counting the travel day). Boston beat Cleveland 7-1 and brought the series back to Fenway.

On Saturday, with Curt "Student-of-the-Game" Schilling on the mound for the Red Sox, I had a relatively good feeling about things. It instantly became a very good feeling after J.D. Drew hit a first-inning grand slam. The silent bat in Boston's sixth spot had finally found its voice.

Fausto Carmona and two other Indian pitchers combined to give up six runs in the third inning and Boston won the game by a score of 12-2. I nearly had an anxiety attack when Terry Francona brought in Eric Gagne to pitch the ninth inning, but by some minor miracle, the former Dodger closer slammed the door on the Indians.

The moment I never want to forget from Game 6 came when Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland's second baseman, plunked Kevin Youkilis in the head during a botched rundown. Youkilis scorched a ball off the Green Monster in left field and overran first base. The relay went to Cabrera who chased Youkilis back to first. Ten feet from the bag, Cabrera tried to toss the ball over Youkilis to the first baseman, Ryan "Champagne-Tastes-Just-As-Good-Away" Garko, but bounced the ball off the top of Youk's helmet instead. In that split second, Youkilis dropped and slid back to first base safely. It's a play worthy of the blooper reel when the postseason DVD comes out.

Last night's Game 7 was much closer than the final score of 11-2 indicates. Boston led by as little as a run at one point and the game would have been tied if it hadn't been for a bad call by the third base coach to hold Kenny Lofton at third in the seventh inning.

In the bottom of that inning, Dustin Pedroia, Boston's leadoff man who hadn't batted in a run all series long, launched a towering home run over the Monster to put Boston ahead by three runs.

Hideki Okajima, the Boston reliever who throws strikes without looking at the plate, pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh innings, but was replaced by Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth after letting two batters reach base with nobody out. That turned out to be Cleveland's last best chance to win.

It was a short-lived chance. Papelbon squelched their offense in the top of the eighth and their defense collapsed in the bottom of the inning. Sloppy fielding and a three-run double by Pedroia gave Boston a nine-run lead. Papelbon pitched a scoreless ninth and Coco Crisp made a brilliant, body-jarring catch in center field for the final out

Boston now gets two days to rest before hosting Colorado. The Rockies will enter Fenway with eight days of rest and a ten-game winning streak on the line. While it would be sweet if Colorado won its first World Series in franchise history, it would be sweeter if Boston won its second title in four years.

Prediction: Boston wins in six games. Beckett and Schilling stop Colorado's streak. The Rockies strike back in Games 3 and 4, but the Red Sox return to finish them off in Games 5 and 6.

What I've Done

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This weekend, I

> read outside on Saturday. M has been running on a local trail on the weekends to prepare for the Nike Half Marathon in San Francisco. Since I want to be supportive, I've accompanied her to the trail. Since I want to be supportive without slowing her down, I've used her outdoor running time as outdoor reading time. It seems to work well. I hope to pick up running again soon since my supply of t-shirts is running dangerously low.

> hiked in Henry Coe. Inspired by Tom Mangan's article and an undeniable desire to stretch my legs, I went for a stroll to China Hole in Henry Coe, the local state park. A number of trails are closed due to last month's Lick Fire, but there are still many worthwhile places to explore and China Hole is one of them. Once I finish uploading some photos, I'll write a quick trip report about it.

> watched Boston lose to Cleveland in Game 2 of the ALCS. Until the middle of the tenth inning, with the score tied at 6, the game was only long. After Tom Mastny got David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell out in order to finish the inning and the Indians came back to wring seven runs out of the Red Sox bullpen in the top of the eleventh, the game became long and excruciating.

Dear Terry Francona,

Please do not let Eric Gagne pitch in relief or go anywhere near the mound for the rest of the season. I know he means well, but he also means misery and disaster.

Sincerely,
David (a.k.a. a Random California Red Sox Fan)

> visited IKEA. After attending a Sunday morning birthday party for twin two-year-olds and then recovering from that party with a cafe au lait at Cafe Borrone, M and I braved the crowds at the Swedish big box furniture store. We managed to come out alive, both physically and financially. We only bought a much-needed bookcase that we got easily into the car and a pair of kitchen scissors that we had to secure with a bungee cord since it was hanging halfway out of the trunk.

I now have three building projects to complete at home this week...

  1. the bookcase
  2. a bathroom cabinet
  3. a LEGO Hogwarts Castle (it was on clearance)

While every fiber in my being says #3 should be done immediately, I'm going to be good and tackle #2 first. That will be the most difficult one. Next, I'll assemble #1 so we can get our growing pile of books off the floor and onto some actual shelves. Finally, as a reward for building #1 and #2, I'll treat myself to building #3.

> watched the Seahawks self-destruct against the Saints while hearing the Rockies clobber the Diamondbacks. I now believe the best way to watch football is with the volume muted. The experience is so much more enjoyable when you replace the commentary and sound effects with music or baseball on the radio. The Rockies are a win away from their first trip to the World Series. With any luck, they'll get that win tonight.

Let's Play Ball Already

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Arizona and Colorado swept their respective opponents (Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively) on Saturday. Boston swept Anaheim on Sunday. Cleveland defeated New York in the Big Apple on Monday to win that series. Since then, baseball has been on hold1 and will remain on hold until tomorrow evening, when the Rockies meet the Diamondbacks in Arizona for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

A two-and-a-half-day break in the middle of the postseason is a long time to go without baseball. Arizona and Colorado have rested three days. They could easily play tonight. I realize ticketholders are expecting the teams to play tomorrow, but I bet very few would be disappointed if they got to see the game a day early.

Letting the National League play tonight would then allow the American League Championship Series to begin tomorrow. It's only saves one day, I know, but it's one day less in an already lengthy season. It also means we would be one day closer to the final showdown between Colorado and Boston (it's the match I'm predicting and hoping for).

At the rate MLB and its television partners have this postseason paced, we won't have a World Series winner until Thanksgiving.

1 If you listen carefully, you can hear the following message repeating softly in the background, "Major League Baseball thanks you for your patience. Your patronage is important to us. Please stay on the line. The next available baseball team will be with you in approximately... 35 hours."

Of Post-Nasal Drips and Postseasons

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I've been fighting off a cold for the past week. I thought I had vanquished it over the weekend, but just like a bad horror movie villain that everybody thinks is dead, my cold came back to life for one last showdown yesterday. It's me or the cold and I swear I won't let a nasty post-nasal drip bring me down, even if it is wearing a ski mask and wielding a chainsaw.

Part of my relapse might be attributable to the hiking I did in Monterey this weekend. While I would like to believe rambling through a county park helps the body and mind rest and recuperate, it probably isn't as effective as some actual rest and recuperation, but I must admit it was nice to be outside while the denial lasted.

Besides hiking and sniffling this weekend, I was paying attention to the last games of the baseball season being played in the National League. As of Saturday, four teams were still fighting for two playoff spots.

There was the exciting tie in the East between Philadelphia and New York that needed to be settled. I was rooting for the Mets to clinch the division, but after a certain Mr. Glavine gave up seven runs in the first inning to the Florida Marlins, I stopped rooting for them out of fear that I would put the game completely out of reach. The Marlins trounced the Mets anyhow and the Phillies clinched the division.

(Not that I'm unhappy Philadelphia made it to the postseason. Although it's the team of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, it still feels like the team of Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk to me.)

There was also the close Wild Card race up for grabs. It came down to a tiebreaker game between San Diego and Colorado. Despite the fact that I was rooting for them, the Rockies managed to beat the Padres in 13 innings. It's a good feeling and a nice change of pace when I don't jinx the team I want to win.

Tomorrow, the Rockies and Phillies face each other in the first round of playoffs. I don't know who I'm jinxing rooting for yet. Maybe I'll alternate teams every inning to keep things interesting.

Now I think it's time to take a decongestant to ward off my chainsaw-wielding cold for another four hours.

AT-AT Park Mock-Up

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I did a quick and dirty mock-up of AT-AT Park, which randomly mentioned in the last post as a solution to constant name changes the ballpark in San Francisco experiences. If it became a reality, it might look something like this...

AT-AT Park

Goodbye, Barry Bonds

Tonight, Barry Bonds plays his last home game as a San Francisco Giant. I wish I could be there to see him. I bet it will be standing room only at AT&T Park1.

Over the years, I have had a love-hate relationship with Bonds. He has been both a source of pride and shame.

When he came to San Francisco from Pittsburgh in 1992, I idolized him. The best player in the game - the two-time MVP, the son of Bobby Bonds, the godson of the great Willie Mays - had come home and was playing for "my" team. I believed he would be the one to carry the Giants all the way to victory and he very nearly did.

He brought the team close to the World Series four times in his fifteen-year tenure (1993, 1997, 2000, and 2003) and took them the distance once in 2002. That year, they were a mere nine outs away from the title when Dusty Baker took the ball from Russ Ortiz and effectively handed the championship to the Anaheim Angels. It was a heartbreaker. At the time, I wrote, "this was most likely Barry Bonds' first and last chance for a World Series ring". I still believe that's true.

While he has done more than his share to help the team, he has also done his share to hurt it. The suspicion surrounding his possible (some might say probable) steroid use has not only tainted him and everything he has accomplished, but it has tainted everything the team has accomplished, too. That cloud has robbed the fans and the team of a chance to fully celebrate his achievements. Any genuine recognition Bonds receives tonight will come from the fans. The team will do the minimum to appear appreciative, but it will do it only for the sake of appearances.

(There's also the fact that Barry is jerk, but that's small potatoes compared the issue of steroids.)

For fifteen years, Barry Bonds has been the one constant on the Giants. He has become synonymous with San Francisco. He is the last player left from the incredible 1993 team that won 103 games only to come in second place behind the Atlanta Braves. Back then, Bonds was the heart of a lineup that included Will Clark and Matt Williams. John Burkett and Billy Swift were the starters and Rod Beck was the closer. Dusty Baker managed the squad. With Bonds' departure, the last link to that era of Giants baseball is broken.

As a Giant, Bonds leaves a legacy of individual achievements. In the orange and black uniform, he hit 73 home runs in a season, walked 232 times in a season, hit 40 homers and stole 40 bases in a season, and was named MVP five times. He also broke the career home run record.

By the way, No. 756 is now going to Cooperstown with an asterisk on it based on the online poll held by Marc Ecko, the ball's owner. While I understand it's Mr. Ecko's ball to do with as he pleases, it's still disappointing to see him deface a piece of baseball history. I wonder if he'll make the equally classy gesture of taking a leak on the ball before handing it over to the Hall of Fame.

Just as Bonds caused mixed emotions in me these past years, his departure tonight does, too.

On the one hand, I'm glad he is going (relieved is probably a better word). He has had an amazing career, but it's time for him to go. The team has sacrificed a great deal to keep him on the roster. Now they can pursue younger, fresher talent to build a postseason contender.

On the other hand, I'm sad to see somebody who has meant so much to the team leave. If I could have my way, I would have Bonds retire as a Giant. I think it will be a long time before baseballs splash into McCovey Cove with any regularity and it will be even longer before San Francisco sees another player of his caliber. Most of all, I'll just miss seeing him play.

In the Mercury News, Mark Purdy wrote:

No baseball player in history has created as many simultaneous conflicting emotions as Bonds. But at AT&T Park this evening, there are bound to be more goodbyes than good riddances.

I hope there will be.

Goodbye, Barry.

1 Over the last seven years, the ballpark has had three different names: Pac Bell Park, SBC Park, and AT&T Park. While some have taken to calling it Telephone Park and others refer to it as Mays Field or China Basin (according to Wikipedia), I think they should sell the naming rights to George Lucas and have him name it AT-AT Park. It makes sense for three reasons:

  1. It would provide name stability. The name wouldn't be affected by the whims of the latest corporate merger or acquisition. The park would have a name that sticks. Wouldn't that be nice?
  2. Lucas' companies, Industrial Light & Magic and LucasArt, are now headquartered at The Presidio, giving him a large presence in San Francisco's northwest corner. By establishing a presence at the stadium, located in the city's southeast corner, he would be balancing things out (or bringing balance to the Force, so to speak).
  3. The creative possibilities are so much greater with Lucas than with a telecommunication company. Instead of a giant soda bottle towering above the left field fence, imagine a giant AT-AT standing out there. The playground could be transformed to look like Hoth or Endor. Kids could get their pictures taken in snowspeeders or on speeder bikes. Instead of numbering the sections, they could name them after characters. "Oh, you're in seat 5, row 14, in section Boba Fett." They could sell bats painted as lightsabers. They could have "Hug a Wookie" night. They could dress Jabba the Hut in a Giants uniform. Okay, that might be taking it too far, but you get the idea, and I had better stop before I become disappointed that this vision will never become a reality.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Friendly Moose

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(This entry's title is courtesy of a random title generator.)

Today is the second day of fall. I would have posted on the first day of the new season, but between yard work and an intense feeling of never wanting to see the Movable Type interface again after such a harrowing upgrade experience, I didn't get around to it.

As far as I can tell, everything survived the upgrade except the banner. The latest version of M.T. allows users to select predesigned styles or themes for their blogs, which is convenient if you don't mind your journal looking exactly like somebody else's journal, but is a pain if you do mind and want to tweak the theme to add your own personality.

- - - - - -

It rained on Friday night and Saturday, which I must admit was a nice change of pace. The rain teased us Friday evening, giving us a thirty-minute preview of what was to come. It was as though it was simply testing the water, if you will - dipping its toe to see if the temperature was bearable. Five hours after the toe dip, the rain plunged right in and didn't let up until Saturday afternoon, making the last day of summer feel more like fall.

- - - - - -

Barry Bonds was on the front page of every local newspaper on Saturday. Headlines like "Bye-Bye, Barry" and "Gone" adorned the image of the rather dour looking slugger. The Giants are letting him go at the end of the season. I was stunned by the news. I had hoped they would finally release him to allow the team to move on, but I didn't actually expect them to do it. Bonds doesn't plan to retire, which means he'll be playing for a different team next season. It's going to be so strange to see him wearing a different uniform after fifteen years of seeing him in black and orange.

- - - - - -

The new television season starts tonight for the major networks. It's the season premiere of many shows, but the one I'm anticipating most is Heroes. I'm curious to find out what happened to Hiro, who was stranded in 17th-century Japan when we last saw him. I'm also curious to know what happened to Peter Petrelli. He was on the verge of exploding in the season finale, but from the previews, it looks like he survived (and used the explosion as an excuse to get a haircut).

The other show I'm looking forward to is the oversold Chuck, a new series by Josh Schwartz, the creator of The O.C. and Gossip Girl.

Chuck is a regular guy working at a computer store who gets mixed up with the NSA and CIA after he opens an email from an old college roommate (who happens to be a rogue CIA agent) containing top secret government intelligence.

I watched the pilot online (Yahoo! was offering a sneak peek) and it tickled my funny bone. In A-meets-B terms, the show is Ed Meets Alias. Zachary Levi reminds me of a younger Tom Cavanaugh.

While I like the show, I'm guessing the network will pull it in six episodes, which is four episodes longer than I expect Journeyman, the other show in NBC's Monday night roster, to live.

Somewhere in the World Right Now

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Somewhere in the world right now,

  • somebody just heard the news that Barry Bonds homered over the weekend to tie Hank Aaron's home run record.
  • somebody else heard the news and couldn't care less.
  • somebody still hasn't heard the news.
  • somebody just asked somebody else, "What is a home run?"
  • somebody thinks Bonds is the greatest baseball player ever.
  • somebody else has no idea who Barry Bonds is.
  • somebody believes Daniel Craig is the best James Bond ever.
  • somebody else believes Daniel Craig is the best Barry Bonds ever.
  • that somebody's friend just corrected him by saying, "It isn't Bonds. It's Bond, Barry Bond."
  • somebody is thinking, "Mmm... donuts!"

It's Monday. The world is a wacky and random place. Enjoy every second of it.

So Long, Beck

Two weeks ago, one of my favorite Giants players passed away. Rod Beck was just 38 years old. He pitched for San Francisco from 1991 to 1997 and was the closer. While with the team, he made it to the All-Star Game three times.

Today, I dread save situations. No matter how many runs the Giants score, no matter the size of the lead, it never feels safe. It feels as though the team is handing away the win when it hands the ball to the bullpen.

That wasn't the case when Beck was the stopper. When he came in, the game was as good as over. (It's true, he blew saves like everybody else, but he seemed to do it so rarely.)

Back then, I craved save situations. In fact, I would be disappointed if the Giants went into the ninth inning with a greater than three-run lead because it meant Number 47 wouldn't be pitching.

Besides performance, Beck had personality and it showed through his appearance. He was a stout figure with a mane of hair best described as a wild mullet. He had a huge Fu Manchu mustache and a right arm that swung like a pendulum as he looked at the catcher for his sign. I remember emulating that arm motion for fun when playing pick-up games.

His best pitch was the splitter. It wasn't very fast, but he threw it hard and made hitters look silly as they swung at the ball futilely or watched it snap by for a strike.

His best season was in 1993 (he saved 48 games), but he was instrumental to the Giants all the way through 1997, when the team replaced him with Rob Nen. He started to decline after that, playing for Chicago, Boston, and San Diego before fading from the game in 2004.

Despite his mean, bulldog look, Beck was known for being friendly and kindhearted. Reading through some of his obituaries, I wasn't surprised to learn that he was heavily involved in charity work and was adored by teammates and fans alike. It was heartbreaking to learn of his substance abuse and one wonders if it contributed to his death somehow.

In my heart, Beck will forever be a Giant, one of the notable names in the team's history, and I'll miss him.

Benitez to Florida for Messenger

In breaking Giants news (related to this entry), San Francisco just announced they traded Balkin' Benitez to Florida for Randy Messenger.

It's a move long overdue. As every S.F. fan knows, Benitez hasn't performed anywhere near the standard he set in 2004, when he saved 47 games for the Marlins. Apparently, it took Tuesday's debacle to finally convince the Giants front office to get off their bums and do something.

Messenger is a welcome addition to the bullpen. He has an ERA of 2.66 in 23 1/3 innings of work, which seems to indicate he is capable of preserving a lead. Now, with any luck, San Francisco's offense will come alive so he has a lead to preserve.

Balkin' Benitez

Last night, the Giants played the Mets in New York. I thought it would be fun to list the four things that went right and the one thing that went very wrong for the Giants in the game...

Four Things that Went Right:
  1. Tim Lincecum's Start - The Franchise allowed just three runs on three hits and struck out eight in seven innings of work. He's coming along just fine.
  2. Dan Ortmeier's Homer - Ortmeier hit his first major league home run in the sixth inning to tie the game.
  3. Middle Relief - Brad Hennessey, Kevin Correia, and Russ Ortiz, the recently reassigned starter, combined for four scoreless innings of work, which gave the Giants a chance to win...
  4. The Top of the Twelfth - San Francisco manufactured a run on a walk, wild pitch, sacrifice bunt, and fielder's choice.
One Thing that Went Very Wrong:
  1. Armando Benitez - With a fresh one-run lead, the Giants closer promptly walked Jose Reyes and balked (sending Reyes to second). After Reyes advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, Armando pulled a classic Charlie Brown move by balking in the tying run. Carlos Delgado, seeking to put the suffering stopper out of his misery, sent a Benitez pitch sailing over the right field wall to end the game.

Final Score: Mets 5, Giants 4.

Balkin' Benitez took the loss, his third loss of Month. Luckily, the month ends in another day, so maybe he can turn it around in June.

Mild Baseball Humor

Last week, on MLB.com Midday, a daily baseball show, Casey Stern talked with Paul Mercurio, a comedian and writer on The Daily Show.

The subject of Roger "The Rocket" Clemens and his 28-million-dollar ($9,000-a-pitch) contract came up and I got a laugh out of Mercurio's jibes...

First of all, the contract is 28 million, 22 dollars. The 22 dollars, and this is a fact, is for his number. And the 28 million dollars is the cost of building an actual rocket...

You know, there are a lot of little perks in his contract. He has to get taken to and from the mound during the game by helicopter...

And when he throws the ball, the catcher cannot throw the ball back to him. The ball is put on a silver platter and a butler brings the ball back to him...

Ah, baseball humor. It's so rare, you have to grab it wherever you can get it, even when it's on the mild side.

Sports Illustrated recently conducted a survey that asked big league players to name the most friendly and least friendly players in baseball.

While it's interesting to know that 46% believe Detroit's first baseman, Sean Casey, is the nicest guy around and 26% believe San Francisco's left fielder, Barry Bonds, is just plain mean, I don't think the magazine did enough with the information they collected. Specifically, they didn't answer the burning question any serious baseball fan would ask: Are friendly players better than unfriendly players?

To help SI out and satisfy my own curiosity, let's compare the Average SLOB of the top five players on each list. SLOB is one of my favorite hitting stats. I like it because it gives equal weight to a hitter's power and his ability to reach base. It's also easy to calculate - simply multiply slugging average (SLG) by on-base percentage (OPS). The bigger the SLOB, the better the player.

Enough with the words, let's get to the numbers...


Friendly Players
NameTeam%SLGOBPSLOB
Sean CaseyDET46%.319.301.096
Jim ThomeCWS7%.630.537.338
Mike SweeneyKC7%.406.336.136
Dave RobertsSF4%.371.283.105
David OrtizBOS4%.604.433.262
Average SLOB.187

Unfriendly Players
NameTeam%SLGOBPSLOB
Barry BondsSF26%.630.503.317
Jeff KentLAD20%.487.363.177
AJ PierzynskiCWS13%.478.303.145
Alex RodriguezNYY12%.689.397.274
Jose GuillenSEA2%.455.351.160
Average SLOB.215

As you can see, the Average SLOB of the unfriendly players is 15% higher than that of the friendly players.

Moral of the Story: If you want to be a better player, don't be so nice.

8 May 2007 - NYM 4, SF 1

Yesterday, I went to my first baseball game of the season. It was the second game of a three-game series between the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. This was the only time the Mets would be in town, so I didn't want to miss it.

To avoid traffic, I took Caltrain to the park. I wanted to arrive early so I could eat dinner at one of the nearby restaurants and still have time to wander around the park before the game began. The first place I came across that looked appealing was Nama Sushi. It wasn't busy, so the service was quick. I didn't want to spend a lot of money, so I went with the moderately priced salmon entree ($12.50), which came with the standard rice, miso soup, and salad. It wasn't bad.

Nama Sushi

From there, I strolled over to the stadium, entered through the main gates, and wandered through the promenade level. There is something about AT&T Park that I just love. It feels old and new at the same time. It also has an energy that one doesn't find in many places.

Willie Mays Gate @ AT&T Park

Big, bright signs on the walls advertised food and drink vendors with memorable names like Say Hey! Willie Mays Sausages, Stinking Rose Restaurant, and Murph's Irish Pub. I stopped by the Cable Car Bar and ordered a glass of chardonnay because I had recently read a newspaper article touting the wines at AT&T Park. A glass will set you back $7.75, but that isn't as bad as the beer, which will set you back $8.00.

I was lucky to get a seat on the left field side. I was only about nine rows back from the field, so Barry Bonds and Moises Alou weren't too far away. As luck would have it, nobody hit a thing to left field the entire night. Wait, that isn't true. Alou did fly out to Bonds in the first inning, but I think he did that just to keep Bonds on his toes. Otherwise, nothing was hit to left, as evidenced by the following photos of two very bored outfielders...

Moises Alou in Repose

Barry Bonds in Action

Matt Cain was the Giants starting pitcher. The kid (he's only 23) is my favorite pitcher on the team. He had a rough outing in his previous start, so I was rooting for him to rebound. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble straightaway.

Jose Reyes led off the game with would have been a triple if not for the fortuitous bounce the ball took over the center field wall to make it a ground rule double. David Wright followed with a double that scored Reyes. Then Carlos Beltran hit a double, which scored Wright.

By the way, if you remember this post, then you know of my affinity for the first two men in the Mets' lineup. I'll admit that I was secretly hoping they would do well. By doing well, I mean I hoped they would reach base, but wouldn't actually cross home plate. They did better than I had hoped and three Mets crossed home plate; the third scoring on Alou's sacrifice fly to Bonds.

The Giants responded promptly with an out, a single, a caught stealing, and another out. Tom Glavine was pitching for the Mets. At the beginning of the game, he was seven games away from his 300th win. By the end, he was six games away. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In the second inning, Cain gave up a single to Paul Lo Duca, who would go on to single two more times before the night was done. Cain got the next two men out, but gave up a sweet triple to Jose Reyes that scored Lo Duca.

After that run, Matt Cain shut the Mets down for the next five innings. He ran into a little bit of trouble in the sixth by loading the bases with two outs, but he somehow managed to get Reyes to fly out to center field before any damage was done.

The only Giants run came in the fifth inning. After Rich Aurilia grounded out to second, Bonds came up and promptly launched a solo home run over the center field wall for No. 745. My camera wasn't ready to catch the actual home run, so I settled for taking a photo of the sign of the leader board in center field.

No. 745

That made the score 4 to 1 in favor of New York and that's the way it would end. Both Cain and Glavine would pitch seven innings. Kevin Correia pitched two perfect innings for the Giants, while Pedro Feliciano held the Giants scoreless in the eighth and Billy Wagner got the save in the ninth by striking out Pedro Feliz to end the game.

The most valuable player of the game was New York's Jose Reyes. He doubled, tripled, scored a run, and drove in a run. The least valuable player was San Francisco's Todd Linden. He struck out all three times he batted.

As I left the park, I took one last photo for memory's sake...

Black and Orange

For fun, I tried my hand at scorekeeping last night. It's the first time I've ever successfully scored an entire game. It isn't perfect by any means, but I'm pretty proud of my attempt. My happiest moment came in the third inning when a late-arriving Mets fan took a seat next to me and asked for a game update. I was able to give him a quick recap with the help of my scorecard. Here it is...

Visitors Scorecard - Mets

Home Scorecard - Giants

Lincecum: Switching Off the Hype Machine

When I tuned in to hear yesterday's Giants game, I knew I was tuning in to hear a pounding. It was the only possible outcome after all of the media hype over San Francisco's hottest pitching prospect, Tim Lincecum.

For the last couple of weeks, the local media has been in a tizzy over Lincecum's stellar minor league numbers: 1 earned run in 31 innings of work (a 0.29 ERA) in Triple A Fresno. It was actually embarrassing to hear those stats repeated ad nauseam by talk show hosts, sportswriters, and broadcasters. Some said it so often, I wondered if they had it tattooed on their foreheads. It seemed so ridiculous. Lincecum hadn't thrown a single pitch in the Majors and people were already calling him "The Franchise" and saying, "This kid isn't a fluke. He's the real deal."

Of course, yesterday's pounding (5 runs in 4 1/3 innings, some might consider it a light pounding) doesn't mean he isn't the real deal. It just means he's human. And like any human, he's susceptible to nerves. In his case, they were nerves partly produced by the fact that he was pitching in his first big league game and partly produced by the honking heap of media-generated hype.

The only player to receive more hype than Lincecum this season is Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is currently laboring under the weight of high expectations from two nations (Japan and Red Sox Nation). In his last (and worst) start, Matsuzaka allowed seven earned runs in five innings, further inflating his ERA to very ordinary 5.45.

In a way, I think yesterday's less-than-perfect start was a good thing. It diffused the anticipation and expectations that had been building around Lincecum and effectively switched off the insane hype machine that had been running nonstop for the past few weeks. In other words, it gave perspective and reality a chance to reassert themselves.

Lincecum has the potential to be a great baseball pitcher and a great addition to the Giants starting rotation, but in the same breath, he isn't the second coming of [insert name of random Giants Hall of Fame pitcher here]. Now that he's gotten his first start out of the way, I'm looking forward to his next one.

It's the seventh of May, the Giants have a winning record (16-14), and the New York Mets are in town for a three-game series. I'm stoked because I'm attending my first game of the season tomorrow night. Matt Cain (who got pelted in his last start after so many outstanding outings) faces Tom Glavine. It should be an exciting match up and I can't wait to see it.

Fun With Baseball Statistics: BB & SO Extremes

This Bat Was Made For Swinging (And Missing)

Sometimes it's fun to see who the wild hackers are in the league - those who would rather wail away than let ball four pass them by. They're at the plate to use that bat, even if it mean knocking the stuffing out of the air above home plate. Cincinnati's Dave Ross leads the league in whiff production. If his strike outs were hits, he'd be batting .393.

PlayerTeamABBBSOPAPA/SOPA/BBSO/BB
Dave RossCIN61324642.6721.338.00
BJ UptonTB77728843.0012.004.00
Alex GordonKC841131953.068.642.82
Craig MonroeDET87629933.2115.504.83
Adam DunnCIN9215331073.247.132.20

And I Would Walk 500 Miles

It's also fun to see who is patient at the plate, has "good eyes", or is somebody the opposition would rather pitch around. Jim Thome leads this category. He walks every third time up.

PlayerTeamABBBSOPAPA/SOPA/BBSO/BB
Jim ThomeCWS502515755.003.000.60
Barry BondsSF632310868.603.740.43
Ryan HowardPHI7926291053.624.041.12
Pat BurrellPHI752220974.854.410.91
Todd HeltonCOL9125611619.334.640.24

Once Is Enough

While I was at it, I wanted to see which players were in base-on-balls "slumps". I arbitrarily set a one-walk minimum for the sake of calculation. I'm not a fan of dividing by zero (seeing #DIV/0! makes me cringe). The interesting player in this table is Yuniesky Betancourt. He rarely walks and he rarely strikes out. So, if you need a guy to put the ball in play, Yuni is your man.

PlayerTeamABBBSOPAPA/SOPA/BBSO/BB
Ivan RodriguezDET96119975.1197.0019.00
Garret AndersonLAA95113967.3896.0013.00
Shea HillenbrandLAA80158116.2081.005.00
Kevin MenchMIL71157214.4072.005.00
Yuniesky BetancourtSEA70147117.7571.004.00

I Don't Want To Miss A Thing

Finally, there are guys who seem incapable of missing the ball. They get out just as often as any other ballplayer, but they aren't as likely to get themselves out. While it's pretty incredible that David Eckstein has only struck out once in 93 trips to the plate this season, it's even more incredible that Placido Polanco, in his career, has only struck out 275 times in 4,047 plate appearances (or just 7% of the time).

PlayerTeamABBBSOPAPA/SOPA/BBSO/BB
David EcksteinSTL87619393.0015.500.17
Placido PolancoDET1096311538.3319.170.50
Adam KennedySTL73547819.5015.600.80
Todd HeltonCOL9125611619.334.640.24
Yuniesky BetancourtSEA70147117.7571.004.00

(Or Why Giants Fans Should Show Matt Cain a Little Love)

San Francisco's Matt Cain finally won his first game of the season on Sunday. He pitched a 1-run, 3-hit, complete game gem, as the Giants beat the Diamondbacks 2-1.

He may not be the first pitcher in the rotation or highest paid pitcher on the team, but he is certainly the ace of the staff. Opposing batters are hitting a mere .120 against him, which is the third lowest average in the big leagues, behind Chicago's Rich Hill and Seattle's Felix Hernandez. He is also fifth in baserunners allowed per nine innings (BAPNI), which is really just WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) multiplied by nine.

I realize teams have only played 18 or 19 games and most pitchers only have four or five starts so far, thereby providing a very small sample size, but it's still fun to calculate, sort, and compare the statistics. Consider it sabermetrical spring training. For some real sabermetrics talk, check out Beyond the Box Score. To the table...

PlayerTeamOBABAPNI
Mark BuehrleChicago White Sox.1505.92
Rich HillChicago Cubs.1136.13
Felix HernandezSeattle Mariners.1076.24
Ted LillyChicago Cubs.1656.92
Matt CainSan Francisco Giants.1207.44
Jeremy BondermanDetroit Tigers.2027.71
Ramon OrtizMinnesota Twins.2157.76
Johan SantanaMinnesota Twins.1918.33
Tim HudsonAtlanta Braves.1658.38
Chad GaudinOakland Athletics.1868.51

(A quick key to abbreviations: OBA = Opposing Batting Average, BAPNI = Baserunners Allowed Per Nine Innings)

By the way, Sunday's (a.k.a. Earth Day's) Foxtrot was all about baseball, a game Peter isn't very good at...

Peter Plays Deep, Way Deep

Who I Would Pay To See Play Ball

Last month, a fan asked Curt Schilling who he would pay to see play baseball. I thought it was such a great qustion, I decided to make it a meme. In alphabetical order, here's a Top 10 list of major leaguers I would pay to see play baseball...
  1. Barry Bonds, Giants - Controversy aside, it's still exciting to see him hit one deep. Yesterday's splash hit brought back happy memories. This may be the last season fans get to see anyone hit those with any regularity.
  2. Craig Counsell, Brewers - Counsell doesn't have the most impressive hitting stats, but his defense is incredible and I love his crazy stance. He one of those guys who gives the game everything he's got. He embodies what I love about baseball.
  3. Greg Maddux, Padres - Maddux is just one of the finest pitchers out there. His control is still amazing. He's played for a number of teams since pitching for Atlanta, but I'll always think of him as a Brave.
  4. David Ortiz, Red Sox - Big Papi is the heart of the Red Sox. It's fun to see him crush the ball, especially when the game is on the line.
  5. Roy Oswalt, Astros - He's one of the most dominating pitchers in the game. It was tough watching him and Houston lose in the World Series two years ago.
  6. Albert Pujols, Cardinals - He's off to a slow start this year, but I'm sure he'll heat up in no time. Like Ortiz, he's an intimidating player that can change the entire game with one swing of the bat.
  7. Jose Reyes, Mets - I'm a fan of leadoff men like Reyes - guys who are excellent contact hitters and speedy base stealers. Whenever he's at bat, the intensity of the game rises.
  8. Curt Schilling, Red Sox - I remember rooting for him when he pitched for the Phillies. The 1993 World Series was a painful affair to follow. Arizona in 2001 solidified him as one of my favorite pitchers, and Boston in 2004 pushed him to the top spot (and I'm not just saying that because he has a blog).
  9. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners - Like Counsell and Reyes, everytime I see Ichiro play, I'm reminded why I love the sport so much. He lives the game. Everytime he steps to the plate, it feels like he's going to make something happen. It's a thrill to see him beat out infield grounders and work the basepaths.
  10. David Wright, Mets - He has been a solid hitter and third baseman for New York since 2004. He reminds me a lot of Matt Williams - professional, level-headed, hardworking, and likable. Plus, he's getting better every year.

You might have noticed that seven of the ten players I mentioned are National Leaguers. The N.L. is still my favorite league.

So, who would you pay to see play ball?

Giants Thankful Its Friday the 13th

Barry Bonds hits two home runs and Russ Ortiz nearly pitches a complete game. Would that happen on a normal day? Maybe if it were 2001, but never in 2007. Thankfully, today is Friday the 13th, where weird and unexplainable things can happen, like a Giants win or Bonds and Ortiz playing like it was 2001.

Bonds only played four innings, but in that short period, he went 3 for 3, homered twice, and drove in four runs. I don't know if his partial game appearances are going to be standard procedure this season, but if it is, the Giants better hope their pitching holds up because their offense dries up once Barry leaves. Tonight, they scored seven of their eight runs in the first two innings, but after Barry's fourth inning home run, the team's bats were silent.

Ortiz was only one out away from pitching a complete game when the manager pulled him. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he settled down and pitched seven scoreless innings. In the ninth, he got the first two batters out, but then gave up a three-run homer. It would have been great if he could have ended his long losing streak with a complete game victory, but Bruce Bochy was smart to relieve him. If he had stayed, Ortiz might have pitched himself right out of a win.

If only Bonds and Ortiz could perform like it was 2001 (or Friday the 13th) every day, the team might not seem so hopeless and the season so long.

Random tidbit: San Francisco's next Friday the 13th game happens in July, when they play Los Angeles at home. That's an awful long time to wait for another win, but at least it will be against the Dodgers.

Fun With Baseball Statistics: Plate Appearances & Runs

(Or Why The Giants Suck So Badly So Far)

Because this journal isn't boring enough, I thought I'd take a moment to show a couple of tables with baseball statistics. I know we're only nine games into the season, but for my own amusement, I wanted to see if there was any correlation between the number of plate appearances it took a team to score a run and its standing in division play.

The following table shows the teams that needed the least number of plate appearances to score a run. Teams in bold are division leaders.

RankTeamPARPA/R%
1New York Yankees312526.00.500
2Toronto Blue Jays322526.19.625
3New York Mets314496.41.625
4Cleveland Indians201316.48.600
5Tampa Bay Devil Rays306456.80.375

And here are the teams that required the most plate appearances to score a run. Teams in bold are division cellar dwellers.

RankTeamPARPA/R%
26Pittsburgh Pirates3442812.29.444
27St. Louis Cardinals3252612.50.556
28Oakland Athletics3582812.79.400
29San Francisco Giants3162015.80.222
30Washington Nationals3332115.86.111

Conclusion Stating the Obvious: While a high PA/R doesn't guarantee a spot at the top of a division, a low PA/R nearly ensures a slot at the bottom.

(A quick key to abbreviations: PA = Plate Appearances, R = Runs, % = Win-Loss Percentage)

Baseball Talk - Slow Starts and Bright Sides Edition

Oakland's Dan Haren must be thinking he needs to pitch a perfect game to get a win. In his first two starts, he has given up just one earned run, but has two losses to his name. In those same two games, the Athletics have scored one run and committed three errors. It might help if the team started giving him some run support and stopped booting the ball.

On the bright side, Haren can console himself in the fact that he isn't San Francisco's Russ Ortiz. At least he hasn't gone an entire season without a win. With yesterday's loss, Ortiz hasn't won a game since August 29, 2005.

On the bright side, with each successive loss, the probability that his next start will result in a loss diminishes. At some point in the future, he'll win again. At least that is what Ortiz should be telling himself. It's also what everybody around him should be telling him so he might actually pull himself out of this slump. At all costs, nobody should mention anything about the gambler's fallacy.

The Giants as a team are off to a slow start. They have a record of 1-4. Fortunately, there are four bright sides here...
  1. The season is young and there are still 157 games to lose play.
  2. At least they're getting to play baseball, unlike the Indians and the Mariners. Their series has been postponed for three days and tomorrow's game is also in question due to snow in Cleveland.
  3. At least they don't have the lowest winning percentage in the league. That honor goes to the Washington Nationals, who are 1-5.
  4. At least they aren't the lowest scoring team in the league. A lot has been made about San Francisco's anemic offense, but they've still scored three more runs than St. Louis, last year's World Champions. The Cardinals have only scored seven runs in their first five games.

The person receiving the brunt of the blame for the Cardinals' run drought is Albert Pujols. He has one hit (a double) in twenty plate appearances and has yet to bat in a run. To his credit, he has walked three times and has only struck out once. And on the bright side (and I had to search long and hard for this one), at least he isn't Kansas City's Alex Gordon, who is 1 for 15, with a single, no walks, and six strike outs.

Finally, on a baseball-related tangent, I saw part of last night's Padres game and was completely thrown by San Diego's uniforms. I had no idea they had special camouflage jerseys, which they to honor the military. It threw me for a loop. It's one of those things that fall into the category of cool in concept, but eerie in execution.

Trevor 'You-Can't-See-Me' Hoffman

Happy Easter!

Baseball Talk - April 4, 2007

Conflict of Interest

As a loyal Giants fan, I contractually obligated to root against Dodgers, but I must admit I was secretly rooting for Jason Schmidt to pitch well against the Brewers. It's physically painful to see the guy wearing Dodger blue after seeing him in a Giants uniform for so long. The good news is that he pitched five solid innings and gave up only one run on three hits. Los Angeles went on to beat Milwaukee 5-4. You should know I have a soft spot for the Brewers this year, especially since they have Craig Counsell, one of my favorite baseball players.

Bronson Arroyo

I'm rooting for Bronson Arroyo again this year. He had his first start today and didn't do so well. He pitched seven innings, allowed four runs on eight hits, and struck out nine. He also took the loss as Chicago beat Cincinnati 4-1.

Bonds Homers

Barry Bonds went deep in the first inning of tonight's game, which means he is twenty home runs away from tying Hank Aaron's record. It's the first run the Giants have scored this season, which is a bit sad considering this is the second game of the season, but on the bright side, at least this isn't Game 3 or 4. I've made some pretty snarky remarks in the past about Bonds, but if 43-year-old veteran is going to be the only one generating runs for the team, then I would like to quietly withdraw and apologize for my remarks. They were obviously made when I thought San Francisco would have some semblance of an offense. By the way, the Giants are losing to the Padres 5-3 in the eighth. I hope Bonds can work some of his magic to tie it up in the ninth.

Giants Opening Day (Semi-Live Blogging)

Opening Day for the San Francisco Giants begins shortly. They'll be playing the Padres at AT&T Park and I'll be blogging it semi-live as I listen to the broadcast via an audio stream. Think of it as Baseball Twittering.

Before I begin, I should mention that I'm giddy with dread. I can't wait for the game to begin, but at the same time, I'm afraid Barry Zito will get smacked around like Curt Schilling did yesterday. Schilling lasted all of four innings, giving up five runs on eight hits. On his personal blog, Curt cited a lack of command for his poor performance. I'm sure he'll work hard to regain it before his next start, but yesterday's game was painful to listen to. I gave up shortly after Schilling left. Kansas went on to win 7-1.

I listened to part of the Athletics and Mariners opening game and heard the sixth inning when Bobby Crosby booted a routine double play relay throw. If he had fielded it cleanly, the inning would have been over. Instead, the inning continued and the Mariners scored four times before Dan Haren could shut the door. Oakland lost 4-0.

Fortunately, yesterday wasn't a complete bust. After all, Ben Sheets and the Brewers stomped all over the Dodgers and t.

Okay, enough about yesterday. Let's get to today's action. To read this chronologically, please start at the bottom...

- - - - - - - - -

4:22 PM -- And the game ends with the Padres drubbing the Giants by a score of 7-0.

Bottom 9
  • Todd Linden faces Bell... out.
  • Molina vs. Bell... out.
  • Feliz vs. Bell... out a single? Wow. Rally time!
  • And then Winn rolls it to second to end the game! Shucks.
  • SD 7, SF 0
Top 9
  • Bard gets his fourth hit of the day and sends Cameron to third.
  • Steve Kline, who had replaced Chulk, keeps the Padres scoreless.
  • Giants have three more outs to score seven runs!
  • SD 7, SF 0
Bottom 8
  • Heath Bell in to pitch for San Diego.
  • With one out, Vizquel singles. Bonds comes to the plate.
  • Bonds sends one for a ride, but it dies at the left field wall and is caught.
  • The Giants fail again to mount a rally.
  • SD 7, SF 0
Top 8
  • Gonzalez gets on, Bard follows with a double. Men on second and third with nobody out. Khalil Greene hits a single and Gonzalez scores.
  • Bochy goes to the bullpen again.
  • Vinnie Chulk replaces Sanchez and promptly gets an out, but allows a run to score.
  • Russell Branyan doubles and another run scores.
  • Chulk walks Marcus Giles. This is getting painful. The weak Giants bullpen is living up to its reputation.
  • Omar Vizquel spears a liner by Brian Giles and the inning is thankfully over.
  • SD 7, SF 0
Bottom 7
  • Disappointed they didn't broadcast the 7th inning stretch. Oh well.
  • Bengie Molina gets a hit off of the new Padres pitchers, Clay Meredith.
  • Winn gets a hit. Two men on with one out.
  • The rally dies an early death with a Klesko groundball for a double play. Stinkers!
  • SD 4, SF 0
Top 7
  • Jose Cruz, Jr. leads off with a triple.
  • Bruce Bochy, Giants manager, makes a double switch.
  • Jonathan Sanchez comes in for Correia and Ryan Klesko replaces Aurilia at first.
  • Sanchez strikes out the first man. 1 out.
  • Sanchez throws a wild pitch, way up and outside. Cruz scores. Augh!!
  • SD 4, SF 0
Bottom 6
  • Durham singles, but Peavy gets Rich Aurilia to fly out and end the inning.
  • Will the Giants go without scoring a run in their first game?
  • SD 3, SF 0
Top 6
  • Kevin Correia takes the mound for the Giants.
  • Bard singles, but Correa retires the side.
  • SD 3, SF 0
Bottom 5
  • And who better to get something started than Pedro Feliz!
  • I had trouble typing that previous sentence without laughing (and then crying).
  • Feliz strikes out just to prove a point.
  • Randy Winn walks.
  • Lance Niekro pinch hits for Zito with one on and one out and then strikes out. Peavy has fanned six.
  • Roberts flies out to end the inning.
  • SD 3, SF 0
Top 5
  • Zito is back to work the fifth. Let's hope for a short inning.
  • Okay, three up and three down with a strike out is short enough. Come on, Giants, let's get something started already!
  • SD 3, SF 0
Bottom 4
  • Bonds walks, but that's about it.
  • SD 3, SF 0
Top 4
  • Dave Fleming mentions the ballpark bunting for the fourth time. Mike Cameron scores on a single by Josh Bard.
  • Padres have the bases loaded with one away.
  • Zito walks in a run. Bard scores. Brad Hennessy gets up in the Giants bullpen.
  • Thank goodness! A double play ball that ends the inning.
  • SD 3, SF 0
Bottom 3
  • Peavy boots a Dave Roberts infield hit, but the Giants don't do anything with it.
  • SD 1, SF 0
Top 3
  • Zito has settled down after giving up the run in the first inning.
  • SD 1, SF 0
Bottom 2
  • Peavy sails through the bottom of the second.
  • SD 1, SF 0
Top 2
  • Zito zips through the second.
  • SD 1, SF 0
Bottom 1
  • Jake Peavy is pitching for San Diego. He got the first two men out and now faces Barry Bonds. Bonds behind in the count 0-2. Works it to a full count. Bonds strokes a ball to the opposite field, defeating the shift, for a base hit.
  • Bonds steals second. Ray Durham bounces to short. The throw to first gets away from Gonzalez. Bonds attempts to score, but is thrown out at home and the inning ends.
  • SD 1, SF 0
Top 1
  • The Giants are on the field. Barry Zito is on the mound. Jon Miller and Dave Fleming are in the booth. It's 1:37 PM. Play ball! Zito's first pitch is a strike.
  • Brian Giles gets first Padres hit of the season. A one-out double off Zito.
  • Adrian Gonzalez pokes a single over the shortstop. Giles scores the first Padres run of the season.
  • Zito works out of the inning without further damage. Giants coming up.
  • SD 1, SF 0

1:30 PM -- Stu Miller throws out the ceremonial first pitch.

1:23 PM -- The All-Star honoring continues. Fun fact: The Giants have more inductees in Baseball's Hall of Fame than any other franchise. HOFers present include Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays.

1:16 PM -- Since San Francisco is hosting the All-Star Game this year, the Giants are honoring their past All-Stars. Jon Miller, the Giants broadcaster, is down on the field announcing. Names include Felipe Alou, Vida Blue, and Jeffrey Leonard. Now they're getting to guys I remember when I first started following the team: Atlee Hammaker, Mike Krukow, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Matt Williams, and Robby Thompson.

1:11 PM -- The cast of The Jersey Boys just sang the national anthem. Maybe it's just the quality of the audio stream, but they sound screechy. On a positive note, it's a well-harmonized screechiness.

1:05 PM -- They just finished announcing the starting lineup and now they're paying tribute to members of the Giants family that passed away, including Chris Brown, Jose Uribe, and Pat Dobson.

Giants - Spring Training and the Flu

Major League Baseball's Spring Training is underway. For the Giants, that means playing Cactus League exhibition games down in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I know the wins and losses don't mean much at this point in the year, but the Giants have a winning record so far (3-1). That's with a clubhouse suffering from a bad case of the flu. Just imagine how well they'd be doing if they were healthy. (Okay, they'd probably be 0-3, but work with me here.)

I listened to part of the Giants/Mariners game on the radio yesterday and one of the broadcasters said roughly 25 guys on the 63-man roster were sick or recovering, including Barry Bonds and Ray Durham. Both were told to stay home so no one else would get infected.

For veterans like Bonds and Durham, the flu might cost them a few days away from the field, but for young prospects hoping to make a good impression, being sick might cost them a spot on the team. I can't imagine the stress they must be going through - wanting to show off their stuff, but at the same time wanting to drink a bottle of Robitussin, curl up in a ball, and sleep. (An alternative line I considered using was "wanting to hack away at the plate without hacking up a lung", but my better judgment intervened.)

Luckily, the regular season doesn't begin until April, which means players will hopefully have enough time to recover and prove themselves worthy of a spot on the 25-man roster.

The Giants are playing Arizona today. Barry Zito is making his second start. (How nice it is to see him in black and orange.) He pitched two scoreless innings in his first outing. Let's hope he can repeat that performance today. Maybe they'll let him test his endurance by pitching an entire third inning.

The 2007 season is just 29 days away. I can't wait for baseball to start again.

The Daily Brick - Day 16

The Daily Brick - Day 16

Baseball is another of my guilty pleasures. This article about Barry Zito is the inspiration for today's strip.

Before I came up with the strip, I was facing writer's block, so I experimented and created this for fun...

The Daily Brick - Extra 1

A Daily Thing - Day 11

A Daily Thing - Day 11

The ongoing Barry Bonds - San Francisco Giants saga is a source of annoyance for me. Here are links to the headlines featured in Panels 2-4...

Hall of Fame - Class of 2007

I just wanted to take a moment to note how happy I am that Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gywnn will be inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame this year. It's hard to imagine two more deserving players, which must have been the feeling shared by the members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who voted. Of the 545 ballots cast, Ripken received 537 votes - 128 more than the required minimum for induction. Gwynn received five votes less than Ripken.

Growing up, I didn't pay much attention to Ripken. I knew he was chasing Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record, but didn't know much else beyond that. Being a fan of the National League and the Giants, Baltimore just wasn't on my radar.

I was more aware of Tony Gwynn. He played for the San Diego Padres after all. I just remember being mesmerized whenever he came to the plate. To see the man hit was a joy. It's the same feeling I get today when I see Ichiro Suzuki hit. Although Gwynn's statistics say he failed to reach base six times out ten, it always seemed like he managed to get on when I watched him.

I most remember rooting for Gwynn in 1994, when he came so very close to becoming the first player since Ted Williams to hit .400 in a season. That was the year of the strike that shortened the season and ruined his chances at the elusive mark. He finished with a still amazing .394.

Oddly enough, I first read about Ripken's and Gwynn's election in a New York Times article (registration required) with the headline, "Steroid Cloud Stops McGwire From Entering Hall". It's funny that more attention was given to how many votes Mark McGwire received (or didn't receive) due to his suspected steroid use than to the two men who actually made it into the Hall of Fame. It's also funny that most of the television footage I've seen of Gwynn or Ripken has been of them answering questions about McGwire or steroids.

If the media is going to focus on players who didn't make it in, reporters shouldn't focus on McGwire, who is still eligible for induction next year (he received more than the 5% needed to remain eligible). No, they should focus instead on the poor souls who didn't make the cut and will never get another chance, like McGwire's old Bash Brother, Jose Canseco.

So, to make it up to the players overlooked by the voting members of the association and the media, here is a list to commemorate those who will never have another shot at Cooperstown. They include:
  • Albert Belle
  • Dante Bichette
  • Bobby Bonilla
  • Scott Brosius
  • Jay Buhner
  • Ken Caminiti
  • Eric Davis
  • Tony Fernandez
  • Orel Hershiser
  • Wally Joyner
  • Paul O'Neill
  • Bret Saberhagen
  • Devon White
  • Bobby Witt

A New Barry for the Giants

When I first heard the rumors that the Giants might acquire Barry Zito, I dismissed the buzz as wishful thinking. True, Jason Schmidt's departure (oh, why couldn't it have been Armando Benitez instead?) left the team in dire need of a solid starting pitcher, but I couldn't picture San Francisco paying big bucks to acquire one.

The news that Brian Sabean had signed Zito to a seven-year, 126-million-dollar contract came as a shock. Had they really signed the top free agent on the market? And had they really thrown that much money at him for that many years?

Seven years is a long time, especially in baseball, and the length of the deal is one of the many reasons why some believe the signing doesn't make any sense considering Zito is 28 and already declining (so they say).

Then again, considering the other Giants acquisitions - Rich Aurilia (35), Ryan Klesko (35), Bengie Molina (32), and Dave Roberts (34) - and the team's average age of 29, Zito is actually an injection of youth (a minor one, admittedly, but every little bit helps).

On their 40-man roster, 10 players are now over 34 and 2 of those are nearly 40 (Tim Worrell and Omar Visquel). If the upward trend continues, the team will have to change sponsors and rename the stadium Sunset Park & Gardens at Retirement Cove.

A quick aside: With the exception of Rich Aurilia, a guy I was sad to see leave three years ago, all of the team's offseason moves have been less than impressive. It doesn't seem like the team is serious about rebuilding or contending this year. Otherwise, management would have focused on obtaining fresh talent instead of old veterans.

At any rate, I was in denial of the Zito deal and refused to believe the news until I saw him donning the black cap and holding up his new jersey with the No. 75 sewn on the back.

I like Zito. He's a good pitcher who projects a nice guy vibe with a goofy edge. His off-the-field hobbies (guitar, surfing, and photography) are well-documented and make him seem down-to-earth and relatable. It's easy to feel a connection with him. He actually seems like a marquee player fans can rally around without reservations or apologies, a refreshing change from recent years.

Speaking of which, the Giants have yet to sign a contract with Barry Bonds for the upcoming season. His name is conspicuously missing from the team's active roster. Personally, I wouldn't shed a tear if it remained missing. How nice would it be if San Francisco could divest itself of Bonds once and for all? Washing their hands of him now would give the cleaning crew enough time to decontaminate the clubhouse before the new season begins.

The way I see it, the Giants didn't spend $126 million to acquire a new pitcher. They spent $126 million to acquire a new face to represent the team and got a pitcher as a bonus. The team badly needed to overhaul its image and restore the reputation the other Barry had damaged. To me, it makes perfect sense to let old No. 25 go. Why hold on to the taint of steroids? Why pay $20 million to keep the stigma and suspicion hovering over the team?

The likelihood of the Giants dismissing Bonds is remote, so we'll likely see him patrolling left field this season. It's a shame, too, because I'd much rather see Ryan Klesko playing that position regularly and have Rich Aurilia playing first base permanently.

At least in the short term, Barry Zito is a good addition to the Giants. He brings a fine pitching arm and a positive image with him - two things the team truly needs. I'll be rooting for him and I hope to make it to the park at least once this year to see him take the mound.

An Earful of Local Baseball News

A true major league baseball fan would have his or her ear against the Astroturf every day, listening for tiny vibrations, those advanced warnings of players hired, fired, retired or traded (the non-rhyming member of the transaction quartet). Naturally, nobody has conducted a long-term study on the effect of constant skin contact with Astroturf, which is why I keep my head far away from the stuff. I'm not going to risk an ear shriveling up, turning green, and falling off just to learn, five minutes before everybody else, that the Yankees traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers. It's interesting news, but not worth an ear.

For fun, here is a list of five baseball tidbits, mostly related to local teams, that some true fan likely lost an ear over to report first:
  1. The Oakland Athletics are moving to Fremont. I was ecstatic about the news until I learned the earliest the team would move to their new ballpark, Cisco Fields, would be in 2010.
  2. Oakland's Frank Thomas will be playing in Toronto next year.
  3. Oakland is interested in acquiring Barry Bonds. Can the A's convince him to play across the bay? And if so, does Bonds have enough left to linger another four years to play in Fremont? Does he even have enough left to put up Thomas-like numbers next season?
  4. San Francisco's Moises Alou will play for the New York Mets next year.
  5. Bill Mueller, who once played for the Giants and won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2004, retired and joined the Dodgers' front office.

Lessons Learned

Over the last several days, I learned

> how America spends its weekends (and money). Hint: visit the premium outlet stores. It's the affordable alternative for families wanting to escape the confines of their dwellings. It's where ordinary folks embark on a pilgrimage to find bargains and deals and soon find themselves in debt, having cleared out the clearance sections of Coach, Banana Republic and Gap along the way. It's where Ma & Pa Middleclass, their five kids, Granny and Aunty Uphilda train during the off-season in preparation for next summer's vacation to an overpriced amusement park. An outlet mall is the perfect place to practice. There's an abundance of strollers and a scarcity of open parking stalls and benches. Late hours are kept, lines are long, restrooms are strategically hidden and prerecorded announcements are multilingual and saccharine. The outlet mall is also where I happened to find carpenter jeans priced at 2 for $25 and a Haydn CD with two symphonies for just $3. So, I'm not complaining. I'm just explaining where you can find America (and me) on the weekends.

> good baseball players who are short aren't short; they're scrappy. If I were a ballplayer, sportswriters would mock my inability to play and call me short. And that's if I was lucky enough to be noticed in the first place. If I were any good, the same sportswriters would avoid overt references to my stature and simply call me scrappy, which is the adjective they're required by law to use to describe players possessing less than seventy-two inches of height and the rare ability to reach base consistently. The journalist who writes an article about a player like Ichiro Suzuki, Craig Counsell or David "Sparkplug" Eckstein without describing him as scrappy or alluding to his scrappiness is a journalist who quickly learns the price of omission is his or her byline. By the way, after St. Louis won the World Series last week, the League chose Eckstein, the Cardinals scrappy shortstop, as the series MVP. Maybe in honor of his well-deserved award, he'll receive a temporary reprieve from the adjective. Of course, it could be worse. At least writers aren't calling short players scrapie, which I understand is a fatal viral disease that afflicts sheep.

> Daylight Saving Time (DST) doesn't mean one gains an hour. It means one recoups the hour one lost six months ago. DST is a sleight-of-hand magician that slips a quarter from your pocket and attempts to amaze you as he produces it from your ear with flourish. Where he slips the flourish from is anyone's guess and a matter best left to somebody else's imagination.

As far as I can tell, DST also means it gets darker sooner. Yesterday, I was basking in the morning light streaming through the window, enjoying my morning stoup of coffee and reading my neighbor's morning funnies, when it dawned on me the sunlight was fading. I rushed to the front door for a better look, but by the time I reached it, I couldn't see a thing and had to grope the darkness for the doorknob. A sudden gasp and slap to the face told me I had found it. I wrenched the door open and stepped outside to see the last of the sun dip behind the western hills. Since I was still clutching the funnies and had already read my favorite strips, I decided to take advantage of the blackness. The blackness, wise to my dalliance with the darkness, would have none of me, so I dashed over to my neighbor's driveway, tucked the comics back in with the classifieds and raced back to the house before anyone was the wiser.

2006 World Series, Games 1-3

If it weren't for the rain delay in St. Louis, I would be watching Game 4 of the World Series on television right now. But since it's raining and I haven't written anything in a couple days, let me get you caught up on what has happened so far.

Think of this as a service (an unfunded, get-what-you-pay-for service). My service's unofficial slogan could be: I watch baseball so you don't have to. To keep expenses low, I fired my editor, so cliches, baseball jargon and references to games being "crucial" have been left in.

In crucial Game 1 (STL 7, DET 2), rookie Cardinals pitcher, Anthony Reyes, pitched eight innings and allowed just two runs - one in the first and one in the ninth. Other notable plays in the game included:
  • Albert Pujol's two-run homer in the third inning. This is notable because first base was open and any other team would have intentionally walked Pujols. Instead, Detroit pitched to him and paid the price.
  • The bizarre obstruction call in the sixth inning. Scott Rolen collided with the Tigers third baseman, Brandon Inge, who was standing in the base path between third and home. Inge was charged with obstruction and Rolen scored.

In crucial Game 2 (DET 3, STL 1), veteran Tigers pitcher, Kenny Rogers, pitched eight innings of shutout baseball. There was some controversy regarding a strange brown smudge on Rogers' palm in the first inning, but he washed his hand between innings and continued to pitch effectively the rest of the game. Detroit's closer, Todd Jones, nearly lost it for his team when he came on in the ninth. He gave up a run-scoring double to Jim Edmonds and loaded the bases before getting Yadier Molina to ground out for the final out of the game.

Finally, in crucial Game 3 (STL 5, DET 0), Chris Carpenter, the Cardinal ace, threw three eight shutout innings against the Tigers. The most memorable play of the game came in the seventh inning. David Eckstein and Preston Wilson were on first and second with nobody out. The Detroit pitcher, Joel Zumaya, got Pujols to hit a groundball back to him. Instead of throwing it to second for an easier double play, Zumaya threw the ball to third. The throw was bad, went by Inge and rolled into the bullpen. Two runs scored and widened St. Louis' lead.

So, the Cardinals enter crucial Game 4 with a one-game lead in this best of seven series. As I conclude this entry, the rain continues to fall in St. Louis, which may mean no baseball tonight.

Sports Movie World

It was the bottom of the ninth inning. The A's were trailing the Tigers by three runs. In the Real World, Oakland would have gone down in order, but for a moment, thanks to a high improbability field, Game 2 of the ALCS entered Sports Movie World. (They would've entered The Twilight Zone, but they were denied entrance by the Alternate Universe Border Patrol.)

In Sports Movie World, common sense and the law of physics are substituted with moral lessons and tense drama. So, instead of simply going down in order - thereby dashing any hope for an emotionally cathartic comeback - the A's loaded the bases with two outs and brought Frank Thomas, the hulking home run hitter and potential winning run, to the plate.

Unbeknownst to Thomas, though, as soon as he crossed the chalk of the batter's box, he accidentally compromised the high improbability field sustaining the existence of the alternate universe.

Had it only been a more unlikely hero stepping to the plate. Had it been a player with a low likelihood of success, someone who had recently gone on the disabled list with a lower back strain and whose prospects of returning this season were close to zero. In other words, had it only been Bobby Crosby, the game would have remained in Sports Movie World a few minutes longer.

To the overwhelming cheers of a standing crowd, Crosby, in a full back brace, would have stiffly hobbled to the plate. After a gut-wrenching swing at an outside pitch, a stomach-twisting swing at a pitch in on the hands and a life-affirming pep talk by Ken Macha as Crosby writhed on the ground in pain, he would have stood in, jaw set, tears in his eyes, and knocked the next pitch out of McAfee Coliseum for a game-ending gram slam.

But that didn't happen. The game was back in the Real World. Instead, Frank Thomas took a mighty swing at a pitch and hit a shallow fly ball to centerfield that Curtis Granderson easily caught for the last out of the game. The A's lost.

Oakland is now down two games as the series heads to Detroit. With any luck, the growing improbability of the A's beating the Tigers will cause another shift to Sports Movie World. If their hitting, pitching and fielding fail to return, a miracle in an alternate universe may be their only hope.

Funding for this entry provided by the Pseudo-Science Babble in Baseball Coalition, a non-profit organization promoting the mashing of science fiction and sports into a new and pulpy derivative genre.

Three Sweeps and a Loss

Over the long weekend, the Athletics, Tigers and Mets swept their opponents in division series play. Oakland's advancement was sweet because, well, for all practical (and postseason) purposes, they're the hometown team. The Tiger and Met victories were particularly sweet since that meant the elimination of the Yankees and Dodgers, respectively.

After the Yankees lost, rumors spread that George Steinbrenner would fire Joe Torre. Fortunately, the rumors weren't true. Today, Torre announced in a press conference that he'll managing the team next season.

Of course, I'm happy Joe has a job next year, but I would have been happier if he had announced that job would be in San Francisco in 2007. With no chance of that fantasy being fulfilled, it'll be interesting to see who Brian Sabean hires as the new Giants skipper. Lou Piniella is a possibility, but with so many teams wooing him, he may be a long shot. Other names I've seen tossed around include Ron Wotus, Ron Washington, Bob Brenly, Bud Black and Dave Righetti.

As I had hoped, the Dodgers went away quickly, quietly and without humiliating themselves too badly. In fact, they only had one embarrassing moment. It came in Game 1, when in a bizarre series of events, two runners (Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew) were thrown out at home plate, one right after the other, in the same play. If three runners had been cut down in a row, the team would have been forced to change its name from the Dodgers to the Los Angeles Lemmings.

By the way, San Diego was the only losing team to avoid the sweep. I'm proud of them for snatching a win from St. Louis. Next year's goal: win two games. It's all about baby steps.

Game 1 of the American League Championship Series between Oakland and Detroit is tonight. Barry Zito faces Nate Robertson. I'm hoping to get home in time to catch at least part of the game on television.

Finally, on a sad note, the world lost Buck O'Neil, a baseball great, on Friday, at the age of 94. Earlier this year, he had been conspicuously excluded from the list of 17 Negro League inductees into baseball's Hall of Fame. An ambassador of the game and one of the last survivors from baseball's segregated era, he accepted an invitation to speak at the induction ceremony despite the snub.

I remember first seeing him in Ken Burns' Baseball. He always had a smile, a twinkle in his eyes and a gentle and affable way about him. He could also tell a good story. I immediately took a liking to him. His omission from the Hall of Fame still rubs me the wrong way and I secretly harbor the hope that they'll come to their senses and induct him. Baseball was blessed to have somebody like Buck and I'm saddened by his passing.

California Baseball in October

At one point in September, the Giants came dangerously close to taking the lead in the National League wildcard race. Had they taken it, I doubt they would have known what to do with it.

For San Francisco, winning the wildcard would have been like winning a schoolyard brawl for the opportunity to face the class bully (a.k.a. the New York Mets). Sure, there's the elation of actually winning, but then there's the realization that the reward is a severe pounding and a view of the world from the inside of a trashcan.

Luckily, the Giants never had to face that "Oh, crap!" moment. No sooner were they within reach of the prize, they faded and faded fast, allowing their buddies in blue, the Dodgers, the chance to get creamed. It was a generous move. Few are those who would take such a dive for a rival friend.

With the manager, Felipe Alou, out, eleven players eligible for free agency and the shocking scientific revelation that the team doesn't actually revolve around Barry Bonds, San Francisco has a rare opportunity to build a young, promising team from scratch for next season.

Being from California, I tend to cheer for California teams... most of the time. This year's MLB postseason finds three teams from the state still in contention: Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles.

I don't know if I'll get a chance to hear the A's game today, but I listened to an audio feed of Game 1 yesterday. Behind the pitching of Barry Zito, who gave up just one run, and the hitting of Frank Thomas, who had two solo home runs, Oakland beat Minnesota by a score of 3-2. Later today, the Athletics have a chance to take a second game from the Twins in the best of five series. I'm pulling for the guys in yellow and green to make it to the World Series. It's about time they get it beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Yesterday, San Diego lost its first game to St. Louis. If I recall correctly, the last time the Padres represented the National League in the World Series (back in 1999), they were swept. I'm rooting for them to take at least one game from the Cardinals.

That leaves the Dodgers, the only California team I'm rooting against. They're set to play their first game against the Mets (a.k.a. the team from New York I like) this afternoon. I don't necessarily want to see Los Angeles humiliated (too badly), but it would nice if they went about losing quickly and quietly. There's no shame in losing efficiently, is there?

If I had my way, I would want the Athletics and the Mets to face each other in the World Series. But since getting my way is highly unlikely, I expect to see the Cardinals play against the Yankees in the final showdown of the season. We'll see.

By the way, Zito just started writing a blog this month; so did L.A.'s Derek Lowe. My favorite professional player blog is still David Wright's of the Mets. He's been blogging since the season began, so it's been fun to see the months unfold from his point of view.

Dodgers Sweep the Giants

Yesterday, the Dodgers completed a sweep of the Giants and they did it in dramatic fashion - with a solo home run in the tenth inning of a scoreless game. It must have been something1 to have been there to witness San Francisco's Jason Schmidt and Los Angeles' Greg Maddux add another chapter to the storied rivalry between the two teams.

By the way, I still can't get over the fact that Maddux is now playing for Los Angeles. When did that happen? He isn't supposed to be a Dodger. He's supposed to be a Brave or a Cub. Before July, he had only ever played for Atlanta or Chicago. I know it's normal these days for players to move from team to team like nomads (millionaire nomads wandering that vast baseball desert in search of more money), but it just seems so strange that he's playing for a team west of the Mississippi.

For eight innings, Schmidt and Maddux made it miserable for the hitters they faced. Schmidt spread five hits over eight innings, while Maddux gave up two singles in the first inning and nothing else. To add to the marvel, Maddux needed a mere 68 pitches to record his 24 outs. It took Schmidt 115 to get his 24.

The sweep helped the Dodgers stay on top of the National League West. It also "helped" the Giants stay at the bottom of the division (7.5 games behind the Dodgers). With a four-game series against San Diego beginning tonight, followed by a three-game series against Los Angeles this weekend, I'm going to be an optimist2 and say their chances of gaining ground in the division are slim.

Because I was curious (and more importantly, because it’s fun), I did a little research to see how Schmidt and Maddux stacked up statistically. Here are five bits of trivia I found interesting. That they all seem to point to the fact that Maddux is better than Schmidt is purely coincidental.
  1. Maddux has won 18 or more games in 9 of his 21 big league seasons. Schmidt has won 18 games once in his 12 seasons.
  2. Schmidt's best season record was 17 wins and 5 losses in 2003. Maddux's best season record was 19 wins and 2 losses in 1995.
  3. Maddux has pitched 108 complete games and 35 shutouts in his career. Schmidt has pitched 20 complete games and 9 shutouts.
  4. Schmidt walks one batter every 2.5 innings. Maddux walks one every 5 innings.
  5. Schmidt is a career .102 hitter with 7 doubles, 6 home runs and 20 runs batted in. Maddux is a career .174 hitter with 32 doubles, 5 home runs and 78 runs batted in. He has also stolen 8 bases.

1 For Giants fans, that something is known as agony.
2 A pessimist would have said their chances were less than zero.

Blogging = Batting

After a bit of pondering, I've concluded that blogging is exactly like batting, only with less pine tar. I would have said less steroids, too, but the prodigious daily word count of some bloggers leads me to believe they are using undetectable performance-enhancing drugs.

Sitting down to write is the blog equivalent of stepping up to the plate. Like batters, every blogger has a different stance. Some bloggers like to write in cafes (an open stance), some prefer the privacy of their homes (a closed stance) and some can only write when dressed as a hot dog (akin to Craig Counsell's classic stance). Everyone starts with a different stance, but when it comes to that critical point of producing written thought, putting the bat on the ball, everyone finishes at the same place (even Counsell, as hard as that may be to believe).

Topics are like pitches. Just as batters have certain pitches and locations they prefer (high fastball, inside breaking ball), bloggers have certain topics they prefer because they know it works well with their style. Of course, bloggers are slightly luckier than batters because life usually doesn't throw nasty stuff like Carlos Zambrano and Johan Santana do (or Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens did, for those seeking more recognizable examples).

As with pitches, there are several ways to approach topics. Most bloggers try to be serious (try to pull it), others try to be humorous (take it to the opposite field), some try too hard (aim for the fences), some don't try hard not enough (shallow pop-ups) and some are satisfied to write a sentence and add a link (bunt it down the line).

Finally, like batters, bloggers experience streaks and slumps because good writing, like good hitting, is rooted in practice and good mechanics. What causes slumps? Batters usually attribute their lack of hits to timing, while bloggers usually attribute their poor writing to a lack of inspiration. (And by bloggers, I mean me.) In either case, the only real way to break out of a slump is to keep doing the very activity that is slumping until the timing or inspiration returns.

So, as you can see from this brief (and shoddy) comparison, blogging is exactly like batting (minus the helmet and chewing tobacco).

A.L. 3, N.L. 2

Ah, back-to-back entries about sports. How wonderful. Escapism at its best. This one isn't about soccer, though, it's about something much better than that. It's about baseball. More specifically, it's about last night's All-Star Game held in Pittsburgh.

For fans of the National League, the Midsummer Classic is beginning to feel more like a Peanuts comic strip every year. Since 1997, the National League has played the part of the eternally optimistic Charlie Brown. They come in once a year hoping for a win (that elusive football), but the American League (crabby Lucy) inevitably snatches it away.

This year's game started well enough. The Dodgers' Brad Penny struck out the side in the first inning with nothing but fastballs. He surrendered a solo home run to the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero in the second, but the National League responded in the bottom half of the inning with a home run off the bat of the Mets' David Wright, the runner-up in Monday's Home Run Derby.

A quick aside: Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won the Derby, making him the second Philly in a row to take the title. Bobby Abreu won in 2005.

In the third inning, the National League took the lead after the Mets' Carlos Beltran doubled, stole third and scored on a wild pitch. For the next five innings, the N.L. kept the A.L. at bay and took a 2-1 lead into the ninth.

San Diego's Trevor Hoffman came in to pitch the last inning and managed to get the first two batters out. Everything was set. Lucy was holding the football and Charlie Brown was a step away from kicking it. It looked like it would actually happen this time.

But at the last second, Lucy yanked the football away and sent Charlie Brown flying. With two outs, Hoffman gave up a single to Jose Lopez, a double to Troy Glaus and a triple to Michael Young, which scored Lopez and Glaus and put the A.L. ahead by a run. Mariano Rivera pitched the bottom of the inning and secured the American League's eighth consecutive All-Star victory.

It was heartbreaking loss. With its young, rising stars putting them on the board early, the National League looked like it had a real chance of snapping its losing streak, but an old arm blew the lead late in the game and kept the sorry streak alive.

Sigh.

I guess all I can do is echo the mantra of baseball fans everywhere, "Wait till next year!"

Yesterday

Yesterday

> was Election Day in California. I didn't vote, which I feel somewhat bad about because I know every vote counts. A couple of people were actually kind enough to remind me of that fact after I told them I hadn't visited my polling place. Of course, neither of them could tell me how much my vote would count and I have a feeling it wasn't because they didn't know, but because they didn't want to admit that it wouldn't count for much.

> was also June 6, 2006, which in its numerical form is 6-6-2006, the number of the beast's lesser-known cousin, Walbert, whose latest foray into evil resulted in the production of Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. What's truly evil is the temptation I feel to watch the movie just to see if it's as atrocious as it looks in the previews.

> I hung out at the blogger gathering at Barefoot Coffee Roasters. The conversation covered a wide range of topics including rabbis, copyright laws, unpacked moving boxes, Kathleen Harris, metrics of fame, ethanol, mycereal.com and outsourcing, which may sound boring in a list, but is a hoot in a coffee shop. It is... really.

> San Francisco's Jason Schmidt struck out 16 batters in a complete game victory over the Florida Marlins. He tied the team record set back in 1904 by the great Christy Mathewson. The Giants are in a three-game winning streak and are three games out of first place in their division. With Moises Alou returning to the lineup, they will hopefully keep the streak going and gain more ground.

A Book Release and Three Movies

I attended Barry Eisler's book release at Kepler's in Menlo Park last Thursday. The Last Assassin is the fifth book in his six-book John Rain series. I wasn't going to mention it until I finished reading the novel, but with a stack of unread library books accumulating dust (and potential late fees) at home, I have no idea when that will be. June would be nice. July is more likely.

One reason why the books remain unread is that I watched two baseball movies on Friday and Saturday. The first was Eight Men Out, a film about the Black Sox scandal where players from the unstoppable Chicago White Sox took money from gamblers to lose the 1919 World Series. The second was Billy Crystal's 61*, the story of Roger Maris' and Mickey Mantle's 1961 pursuit of Babe Ruth's single season home run record. I want to write more about both films, but feel rather pressed for time now, so I'll just say I enjoyed them.

Another reason I didn't read is that I saw X-Men: The Last Stand on Sunday. I went in with high hopes, but came out rather disappointed. From the previews, I thought the film had potential. A government-funded laboratory announces a "cure" for the mutant gene. At the same time, Jean Grey (a.k.a. The Phoenix) returns. What happens next? Well, to me, what happened next was a muddled mess. If the two plotlines were dance partners, they were stepping all over each other's toes. They didn't move well together and actually seemed to hinder one another. Certain elements that worked in the previous installments seemed diluted in this one: the rivalry between Charles Xavier and Magneto, the love triangle involving Jean Grey, Cyclops and Wolverine. Even the tension between the government and mutants seemed watered down. And at times, it felt as though events unfolded a specific way, not for the sake of the story, but for the sake of showing off mutant abilities.

What Does 714 Mean?

Barry Bonds hit his 714th career home run on Saturday against the Athletics in Oakland. The ball sailed into the right field stands and into the glove of Tyler Snyder, a nineteen-year-old kid, who had it posted for sale on eBay before Bonds finished rounding the bases1.

Since Saturday, I've been trying to answer the question, "What is the meaning of 714?" Is it a noteworthy milestone or a meaningless number? Is it the meaning of life multiplied by 17? (Well, in fact, it is, but what does that mean?)

As with everything in the universe, it means different things to different sentient beings. While it would be interesting to speculate about what dolphins think 714 means, I'm guessing that since it doesn't concern fish, they haven't given it much consideration. So, I'll limit my speculation to humans.

To those who adore Bonds, 714 means achievement. Only one player in baseball history has hit more home runs and that man reached the mark 32 years ago. Hank Aaron reached 714 in 1974, 39 years after Babe Ruth set the record.

To those who believe Bonds used steroids, 714 means shame. His alleged cheating negates the milestone's historic value. 714 is just the latest tainted home run in a long string of tainted home runs. It is the spoiled fruit of the sport's juiced era.

To Bonds, 714 means superiority. His quest to surpass Ruth and Aaron is second only to his quest for a World Series ring. Bonds believes beating Ruth's record will prove he is better than the Babe. With his chances of winning the elusive ring dwindling, 714 means more now than ever.

To the league and the team owners, 714 means money. Despite the alleged use of steroids, stadiums in San Francisco, Houston and Oakland were sold out as baseball fans filled the seats for a chance to see Bonds tie the record. They'll continue to flock until Bonds beats it.

To the sports media, 714 means a reason for excessive coverage. Since the season began, they've been fattening the story up to milk it for every drop they can. Since 713, the local newscast has been showing clips of every Bonds plate appearance, be it a hit or an out. One night, the sportscaster was so focused on Barry, he forgot to mention if the Giants won or not.

To those who don't follow baseball, 714 means absolutely nothing. It's simply another distraction from world events that truly matter, like the fate of a racehorse with a shattered leg.

For me, I still don't know what 714 means. I know what I want it to mean, but with all of the controversy surrounding it, I doubt it does. I want to believe it is an accomplishment worthy of applause, not an asterisk. I want to believe Bonds reached the milestone with hard work and natural talent, not with the clear and the cream.

I guess my uncertainty stems from my ongoing denial. That explains why I still qualify any mention of steroids with the word "alleged". It helps me hold onto the fading hope that Bonds will be vindicated.

I actually can't wait until baseball shifts its attention away from Barry. I'm looking forward to celebrating a milestone that has unquestionably genuine meaning (as far as that is possible in the vacuum of professional sports). In my eyes, the next big one will be Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit. He is 154 hits away, which means he should reach it next season, if he stays healthy. I hope he does.

1 To be fair, a Kenyan could complete a marathon in the time it takes Bonds to round the bases.

Swing

Swing batta batta,
Swing batta batta,
Swing batta batta,
Swing!

Those are the lyrics to the chorus of Trace Adkins' "Swing", his new country song about men picking up women using baseball metaphors. Because of its references to the game, somebody thought it would be a great marketing idea to release the song on MLB.com before releasing it on the radio. It isn't a bad idea because I know I wouldn't have heard of it and wouldn't be writing about it now if Adkins had released it through traditional media.

As for the song itself, it flows in the same vein as most of my favorite country songs. It's corny, yet catchy. It's tongue-in-cheek fun that follows in the footsteps "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk", the only other Adkins song I can think of at the moment.

I really dislike the previous paragraph, but I'll keep it in to benchmark the standard that all lazy writers should strive for in their own writings.

Anyway, "Swing" is one of those songs that I would secretly tap my foot to and sing along with in private, but would adamantly deny liking if asked in public. I would also deny attempting to perfect my imitation of the song's opening line, "Take me out to the ballgame." Although, I must admit that I nearly have Adkins' distinct baritone drawl down.

Rain Delays and Bronson Arroyo

According to this article, the Giants were rained out for the second time in two days. Rain has postponed three of the first nine Giants games this season. I hope they like doubleheaders because they have a few to look forward to. The first one takes place today, weather permitting.

I wonder how badly the unscheduled three-day delay will impact San Francisco's four-man starting rotation. Matt Morris, who is pitching in the afternoon game, hasn't started since last Wednesday. That's a whole week away from the mound. Unless the Giants throw in a fifth starter, his next start will be on Sunday with just two days of rest. Only after that start - barring any other delays - will he be able to fall back into his routine of three rest days.

On an unrelated note, one of the players I'm following this year is Bronson Arroyo. He's a starting pitcher for the Reds. The guy is 29, lanky (6'-5", 190 lbs.) and has wild hair (not Johnny Damon wild, but still). He has played for the Pirates and Red Sox and was a member of Boston's 2004 championship team.

This year, he was willing to take a cut in pay to stay with the Red Sox and the team repaid his loyalty by trading him to Cincinnati for Wily Mo Pena. So far, Arroyo has two wins in two starts, a 1.98 ERA and two hits in four at-bats, including two home runs, which gives him two more than Wily Mo and Barry Bonds.

Upside/Downside: Noah Lowry

Upside: Noah Lowry pitched a scoreless one and two-thirds innings in yesterday's game in which the Giants beat the Braves by a score of 6 to 4.

Downside: After recording those five outs, Lowry left the game with a strained right lower back. The Giants don't know how severe his injury is or if they'll need to place him on the disable list, which means he may only miss a start or may miss several weeks. Hopefully, the strain won't be serious and Lowry will return the mound soon.

Home Run Calls

In the first three days of the season, big league sluggers hit 105 home runs. Batters from the National League West accounted for four of those. The Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies are the only teams that have yet to hit one out of the park. I'm hoping San Francisco hits at least one today to avoid being the last team to homer, a distinction on par with being the first one voted off the island.

With so many home runs already, I thought it would be amusing to survey the various home run calls made by radio broadcasters around the league. For a sampling, I listened to highlights from Tuesday's games and this is what I heard...
  • "High and deep to left/center/right field..."
  • "Way back. Looking up. And it's gone!"
  • "Fly ball. Well hit. It's a home run!"
  • "Fly away!"
  • "There she goes!"
  • "That ball is history!"
  • "Good-bye, baseball!"
  • "Bang! Get up! Get up! Get outta here! Gone!"

Most announcers stick with rather conventional calls, but there are few that try to be original. I wonder how many of them stayed up late at night in their hotel rooms in search of that signature call, one they could call their own.

If I were announcing a game, the first two I'd try would be "And that one is up, up and away!" and "It's a bird. It's a plane! No, it's a home run!" I'm just not sure which one I'd use first since they're both equally lame.

Writing about this has me hankering to see a ball game at Insert-Latest-Name-of-Global-Telecommunications-Company-Here Park in San Francisco soon. The Giants are playing there this afternoon in their home opener against Atlanta.

The Giants won their first game of the season last night in San Diego behind the pitching of Matt Morris. Noah Lowry takes the mound today. He's one of three pitchers on my fantasy team this year (the free version offered by MLB), so I'm hoping he comes through for me. If he can also come through for the Giants, that would be a bonus.

Just Write

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Just write. Just write. Just write.

I won't be blocked if I just write. Of course, is it really writing if I simply write the same two-word phrase over and over again?

This is the last day of March. That means a quarter of the year is history. That means if 2006 hasn't been the year that you've wanted it to be, you still have 275 days to do something about it. 275 days is plenty of time.

Of course, if 2006 has been everything you dreamed it would be, well, there's still 275 days remaining for something horrible to happen and screw it up. Hmm, let's not think about it that way. Let's be optimists and say that the great year you've been having so far has the potential to be even better.

Today is Cesar Chavez Day, a California state holiday that I'm not exactly making the most of as I sit here at home, drink coffee and write a journal entry in my pajamas.

According to the weather report, there should be wind and rain outside, but from what I can see out my front window, there is nothing but sun, white clouds and blue skies. It's extremely tempting to jump in the car, drive to the nearest park and hike around while the bad weather is at bay.

Of course, with my luck, by the time I changed out of my pajamas (which wouldn't happen until I realized I was still in them a mile or two from the house and drove back), the predicted storm would have arrived. Since I won't be made a fool of by the weather, I'll just stay inside and watch it not rain for the next few hours.

In two days, Daylight Saving Time begins. That means we will all lose an hour, which is really a shame because I planned to use that hour to invent a commuter vehicle that runs on used coffee grinds. There wouldn't be any exhaust fumes, only the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Filling up would be easy since there must be just as many Starbucks and coffee shops as there are gas stations. Plus, those that brew their own coffee would have enough grinds to get them to work after they enjoyed their morning cup of joe at home. In-vehicle coffeemakers would come standard, as would spill-proof mugs and adjustable cup holders. Automatic milk and sugar dispensers and stir sticks would be optional features. Unfortunately, none of this will ever exist because we'll be losing an hour in a couple days.

Baseball's Opening Day is just three days away. During what seems to be the longest off-season ever, I somehow managed to beat the baseball blues. I finished the tenth and final disc of Ken Burns' Baseball a little over a week ago. If I had a wish list, that documentary and his Civil War series would be on it.

To hold me over for the next few days, I should be receiving the DVD of Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. It's the game where Boston tied the best-of-seven series after losing the first three. It's also the game with Schilling's bloody sock and A-Rod's blatant ball-slapping stunt.

The disc is part of The Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series Collector's Edition, a 12-DVD set that I initially derided, but gradually desired thanks to something called uncontrollable curiosity. To avoid appearing obsessed with baseball or the Red Sox, I only put two of the discs in my queue (Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS).

Okay, that's about it for now. The sky is starting to look more overcast. Time to finish the last of the coffee, change into more suitable attire and see what I can do with the day before the rain comes.

WBC Final: Post-Game Blurb

I missed the final game of the World Baseball Classic last night, but I didn't fret because I knew I could listen to the archived webcast of the game while I worked today (multitasking is a wonderful thing). The trick was to avoid hearing the results before hearing the game, which was surprisingly easy to do because sportscasters were more interested in reporting on Paul Tagliabue (his new title is Former NFL Commissioner), Terrell Owens (he's a Dallas problem now) and March Madness (an annual event involving brackets, betting and something called basketball).

You should probably avert your eyes now, if you:
  • plan to listen to all four hours of the game on your own and don't want to read the results;
  • don't want to read about baseball;
  • need practice averting your eyes.
If you're still reading this, then I assume you are:
  • curious to know the results;
  • interested in reading about baseball;
  • really, really bored;
  • incapable of averting your eyes.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I'm elated that Japan won. I had an inkling they would, especially after Cuba made two pitching changes and Japan scored four runs in the top of the first inning. Cuba's starter threw 24 pitches, recorded one out and loaded the bases before the manager pulled him. Before the game ended, eight pitchers had taken the mound for Team Cuba.

Japan won by playing "small ball", a term I loathe for a style of baseball I love. "Small ball" refers to the offense overwhelming the opposition with a string of walks, bunts, singles, stolen bases, double steals, hit-and-runs, run-and-hits and squeeze plays to score runs.

While the small ball requires contributions from many players to succeed, the two that stand out most in my mind are Ichiro Suzuki and Nobuhiko Matsunaka. The two of them accounted for five of Japan's ten hits and six of the team's ten runs.

Just so I have it written somewhere, the final score was Japan 10, Cuba 6.

The next WBC (if there is a next one) will be in 2009. I hope more nations will participate. I also hope the organizers will improve the tournament and develop, amongst other things, a better round robin system that won't rely on complicated (and convoluted) rules to settle ties.

The regular season begins in less than twelve days. I'm looking forward to it.

WBC Final: Pre-Game Blurb

Japan and Cuba will be squaring off in the World Baseball Classic final tonight. I won't be able to watch it, but I'm hoping to listen to part of the game (if not all of it) on the radio or the web when I get home.

I was actually able to see the second semifinal match between Japan and Korea on Saturday. Coming into it, Korea had beaten Japan in both of their previous encounters. In fact, Korea was undefeated in the Classic entering the game. Those two bits of information gave me hope that Japan would win.

There are times in baseball when the odds of something happening are so low that the chances of it actually happening grow.

That's why it didn't come as too much of a surprise that Japan ended up beating Korea by a score of 6-0, which brightened my weekend because the Dominican Republic, the other team I predicted would be in the finals, lost to Cuba earlier in the day.

I'm rooting for Japan to take the title. I admire their style of play. I like their undisguised determination to put the ball in play every time they come to the plate and the hustle they display on the base paths. It's such a change from the more complacent playing style some of our big league stars show.

Tonight, we'll see it's enough to help Japan defeat Cuba.

Bye-bye Barry

"One of these days, Barry Bonds will look in the mirror and see what the rest of us see. Nothing. None of this matters anymore. He can't undo the lies, the injections, the arrogance, everything that follows him today and tomorrow and beyond. The home runs he hits will be ignored, the records he sets empty. To the baseball world, Bonds is dead. And, much like Bruce Willis' character in The Sixth Sense, he's the only one who doesn't realize it."

Jeff Passan's column, "The Ghost of Barry Bonds", caught my eye today. It perfectly captured my feelings about Bonds. Anything the man accomplishes now seems pointless. If the accusations are true and I don't see how they can't be, then everything since 1999 has been a lie.

I'm angry at myself for never taking the allegations about Bonds seriously. I glossed over them and dismissed them as accusations by people who were jealous or unhappy with his unfriendly attitude. I had a bad case of denial.

My anger stems from a feeling of betrayal. I feel betrayed as a fan of Bonds, as a fan of the Giants and as a fan of baseball.

There have been many players who have admitted to using steroids and while I felt betrayed then, it doesn't compare to how I feel now. Perhaps if Bonds had been a nobody before he took steroids, I wouldn't feel so strongly. Maybe if he was on another team, I wouldn't feel as bad. But he was already a hero, and a hometown hero at that.

What seems to make it worse is that before he took any steroids, many "experts" and fans already considered him one of the best players in the history of the game. He could hit for average and power. He had speed on the bases and in the field.

Yet everything he has accomplished with his considerable talents seems to matter very little now. To be melodramatic, everything that should have been a source of pride is now a source of shame.

On top of that, what he has done can't be undone. It's impossible to untangle his statistics from those of others to correct or erase them. The only solution left is damage control, which means either firing Bonds or forcing him to retire.

Of course, the Giants don't intend to take either action. Instead, they announced that they will throw a celebration when Bonds hits home run number 715. Passan likens it to "Enron throwing a birthday bash for Ken Lay". I agree. It seems that the front office has a worse case of denial than I did.

I believe the sooner the Giants and Bonds split, the better it will be for the fans, the team and the game.

Love Your Baseball

"Before you love your team, you love your country."

That is one of the taglines Major League Baseball is using to promote its inaugural World Baseball Classic (WBC). Something about it rubs me the wrong way. I don't think falls in line with the published purpose of the WBC...

"The World Baseball Classic was created to provide a platform that will increase worldwide exposure of the game of baseball and further promote grassroots development in traditional and non-traditional baseball nations. The tournament's primary objectives are to increase global interest and introduce new fans and players to the game. The World Baseball Classic acknowledges and pays tribute to the tremendous growth and internationalization of the game."

The WBC should be a celebration of baseball, not a celebration of national pride. There has already been too much of that this year. The world recently had two weeks of flag waving thanks to the Olympics and many weeks of flag burning thanks to protests over cartoons. The organizers should ditch the tagline and come up with something better.

While I haven't been following the WBC closely, I know that Japan and Korea advanced to Round 2 from Group A. There are four groups, each consisting four teams. The other three groups - creatively named B, C and D - began play yesterday.

I know I'm a few days behind, but here are my predictions of how the Classic will play out. Those advancing to the next round will be:
  • Group A: Japan and Korea (It already happened, but I would have predicted it. Really!)
  • Group B: United States and Canada
  • Group C: Puerto Rico and Cuba
  • Group D: Dominican Republic and Venezuela

I expect Japan, United States, Cuba and Dominican Republic to reach the semi-finals. Japan will then top the USA and the Dominican Republic will clobber Cuba to reach the last round. In the end, Japan will claim the first WBC title.

If I had my way, it would be Canada and the Netherlands vying for the championship. Why? Because I think baseball needs a boost north of the border. When the Expos left Montreal, the sport suffered a setback in Canada. As for the Netherlands, well, I'd like to see them in the finals because they are major underdogs in a group dominated by a trio of South American countries.

Of course, it would be humorous if Game of Shadows, the new book about Bonds and steroids, ends up overshadowing everything, from the WBC to Spring Training.

Beating the Baseball Blues

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The baseball season ended over a month ago and I've been trying my best to stave off the withdrawal that usually kicks in as soon as the glow of the World Series begins to fade. Since hibernating until spring really isn't an option, I've been avoiding the Baseball Blues by

> paying attention to off-season trades and signings. There are too many to list, but the biggest transactions for the local teams have happened in the last few days. San Francisco bolstered its pitching staff with Matt Morris, Steve Kline and Tim Worrell, but weakened its clubhouse by dropping J.T. Snow. Meanwhile, Oakland grabbed Milton Bradley, the angry outfielder, from the Dodgers, who obtained Bill Mueller and Sandy Alomar Jr. yesterday.

> keeping an eye on the World Baseball Classic. The inaugural event, which seems to be Major League Baseball's response to the sport's removal from the Olympics, already ran into a snag. Yesterday, the American government told organizers that Cuba wouldn't be allowed to participate. The Soxaholix have a great entry on the controversy. If Cuba can't play, maybe Trinidad and Tobago will get the spot instead.

The event is MLB's attempt to promote the baseball globally. By having superstars represent their "home" countries, organizers hope to attract a large international audience. With players divided by nationality, it's interesting to see how many of today's stars aren't homegrown, which is why I seriously doubt that the U.S. will make it beyond the first round of play. I predict it will be Japan and Venezuela fighting for the title.

> watching Ken Burns' Baseball. His PBS documentary covers the entire history of the sport and is roughly eighteen hours long. Fortunately, instead of showing all eighteen hours in one go, Burns breaks it down into nine two-hour "innings". So far, it's been brilliant and enthralling and I can't get enough of it. I'm currently watching the Fourth Inning, which covers 1920 to 1929, the decade when Babe Ruth made his permanent mark on baseball.

If I can pace myself, I might be able to stretch the five remaining innings out until baseball starts again. By that time, not only will I have a better understanding of the sport I love, but I'll have also beaten the Baseball Blues.

A Few Words as Wednesday Slips Away


I thought I'd share a few of the photos of the Merced River I took when we visited Yosemite last month. The water level was so low in spots that we were able to walk out to the middle of the river. While standing there, I thought about what I would do if all the water that was supposed to be there suddenly came rushing back in. I envisioned a wave similar to the one Arwen summoned in Fellowship of the Ring (in the movie, not the book) to wash away the pursuing Dark Riders, watery horses and all. I wondered what I'd do and the answer seemed pretty clear. I'd say something profound (like "Good golly!"), attempt to run, trip over a rock and drown. Given the recent rise in deaths caused by elf-invoked waves, I consider myself lucky to have taken these shots and survived.

I saw my first Christmas tree of the year on Monday. It was in the window display of a store I passed while getting on the freeway in south San Jose. The tree was an unnatural shade of blue, as though somebody had wrapped the light strings around it too tightly and had cut off its air supply. I suspect the malls and early bird houses will begin their seasonal decorating this weekend.

I finally finished reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, the first book in his series of naval adventures featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. The historical setting and the camaraderie of the two main characters drew me into the story. Aubrey is unsophisticated and a man of action. Maturin is refined and a man of science. It would seem they would never get along, but through their mutual love of music and adventure, they quickly become friends. The book took longer than expected to read, not due to poor writing, but due to my own ignorance of nautical terminology. I constantly found myself wanting a dictionary and a diagram of a ship to know what and where things like the fo'c's'le, mizzen topsail and fore topmast studding sail were.

After an agonizing fourteen innings and five hours of play, the White Sox defeated the Astros last night. Houston has lost the first three games of the World Series, which means it could all be over tonight. It's almost a given that Chicago will clinch it, but it would be nice if Houston won just one game, if for no other reason than to avoid the sweep.

Today, I noticed Richard Bangs Adventures: Expedition Eiger on Yahoo!, which follows John Harlin III's attempt to ascend the Eigernordwand, one of the world's most difficult mountain climbs. What makes the quest compelling is the fact that Harlin's father, John Harlin II, a famous mountaineer, was killed attempting to climb the very same mountain nearly forty years ago. The whole expedition strikes me as an adventure National Geographic would typically sponsor and report, which is why I'm surprised that Yahoo! (in cooperation with MacGillivray Freeman Films) is providing the daily coverage.

Houston Advances

Thanks to the pitching of Roy Oswalt, the Astros are advancing to the World Series. On Wednesday night, he kept the Cardinals to just one run as Houston went on to beat St. Louis by a score of 5-1.

That means that tomorrow's showdown will feature a team that has never been to the World Series (Houston) and a team that hasn't won the World Series since 1917 (Chicago). If nothing else, this year's Fall Classic will be historically satisfying.

I'm rooting for the Astros, partly because of my natural leaning towards the National League, but mostly because of Biggio and Bagwell. I know I'm repeating myself, but to me, they symbolize loyalty, something I wish the sport would value more.

In the ninth inning, a television camera caught their reaction as they watched the game from the dugout. As soon as the team won, the two long-time friends and teammates gave each other a look that seemed to say finally, we made it and then hug. It was a small, but satisfying moment. I hope they win it all this year.

So Much For Lights Out

For a team like the Chicago White Sox, a late-inning, one-run deficit is a minor obstacle, a narrow ditch. For teams like the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals, teams that have struggled to score throughout this NLCS, a one-run deficit is a vast canyon.

So last night, when Houston trailed St. Louis by a run entering the bottom of the seventh inning, I had already accepted the fact they were going to lose. When it isn't your team in these high stakes, high stress games, it's easier and much less emotionally draining to give up on them early.

Even when two men reached base with only one out, I was still at peace. I had seen the Astros develop the same promising situation in the first, second and fourth innings and only produce one run from it all, so I wasn't impressed.

I was calm in my resignation until Lance Berkman's bat made contact with the ball. If events had gone the way I assumed they would, the ball would have reached the shortstop's glove in two hops and Berkman would have been on the backend of an inning-ending double play. Instead, he belted a three-run home run.

That changed everything. It not only gave the Astros the lead, but it also rekindled my hopes for Houston. With the Cardinals behind by two runs, I was certain Houston would clinch the series. How could St. Louis possibly overcome two whole canyons?

I asked that question when Brad "Lights Out" Lidge was on the mound facing David Eckstein with two outs (consecutive strikeouts) in the top of the ninth. I asked the same question when he faced Jim Edmonds after Eckstein singled to left and stole second base uncontested. And I asked it a third time when Albert Pujols stepped to the plate after Lidge walked Edmonds.

Pujols got sick of the stupid question and replied with a three-run homer that had enough distance on it to cross two canyons and half the state of Texas. The ball hit the wall of the Astrodome with such force that stadium officials should have an engineer inspect it for structural damage. Lidge managed to strike out Reggie Sanders, the next man he faced, but it was already too late. Pujols put St. Louis ahead to stay. The final score was St. Louis 5, Houston 4.

Lidge was just one strike away from sending his team to their first World Series in franchise history. Now he and the rest of the Astros will have to sweat it out tomorrow night in Game 6, back in St. Louis, for any hope of a championship. So much for lights out.

A Partial List of the Weekend's Activities

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This weekend, I

> saw highlights of the lengthy struggle between Houston and Atlanta. It ended with the Astros beating the Braves in the 18th inning. They will face St. Louis in the NLCS (National League Championship Series).

It's the matchup I wanted to see. My gut believes St. Louis will win, but the rest of me secretly hopes Houston will make it. I've always had a soft spot for the Astros. They were the visiting team against the Giants in the first major league game I ever attended. I remember Nolan Ryan started for Houston.

I'm also a fan of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Until this season, the two were mainstays at the top of the Astros lineup. Both have also played for the same team their entire careers (Biggio since 1988, Bagwell since 1991), a rarity that is becoming ever more rare these days.

> watched the Angels clinch their series from the Yankees. I'm happy for three reasons. First, it's always fun to watch the Evil Empire fail despite Steinbrenner's millions. Second, it helped alleviate some of the disappointment of the White Sox sweeping the Red Sox. And third, New York's defeat made Joe Buck and Tim McCarver eat humble pie. Those two Fox broadcasters drive me insane.

Now that it's between Chicago and Los Angeles, I'm rooting for the White Sox. And just in case somebody is thinking I have a grudge against the Angels because they beat the Giants in the 2002 World Series. I don't. I have a grudge against them because of their thunder sticks and crazy rally monkey.

> saw Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and loved it. It's hard to believe that stop-motion characters can look so alive. Nick Park is a master with Plasticine. The movie had an abundance of action, humor and rabbits. The scene where Wallace and Gromit catch rabbits on Lady Tottington's estate with the Bun-Vac 6000 is classic. I also got a kick out of the scene where Gromit flipped on the radio and heard part of a Simon and Garfunkel's tune, a random reference to a less cheery movie also involving rabbits.

> rediscovered SimCity 4. It's probably unhealthy to have this much fun planning a city, but I can't help it. It certainly beats playing violent games.

Currently, I'm attempting to improve the standard of living for the citizens of Beantown, a town of 12,000 simulated souls. The most pressing problem is the pollution. One solution is to create open spaces like parks or forests, but so far, I haven't been so successful. For somebody who loves open spaces, I have had a difficult time resisting the urge to zone every available square of land. This evening, I'll have to be strong and decide which developed areas I'm going to demolish and clear to create the Beantown Green, the first step in an effort to bring breathable air back to the people.

> finally cleaned a room I swore I would clean for the last 91 years. I had been meaning to do it for so long that it actually appeared on my to do list decades before I was born.

Bright eyes
Burning like fire
Bright eyes
How can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale?
Bright eyes

Finding Hope

I thought Alphonse's reaction to the news of Barry's return (in last Sunday's Farley) typified the reaction of Giants fans everywhere. Although Bonds hasn't quite lived up to my modest expectations, he has hit four home runs in four consecutive games, drawn seven walks (thereby tallying a few more rubber chickens) and boosted fan morale, giving them a ray of hope at the end of a dreary season.

Since his return, the Giants have gained three games on the Padres, placing them three games behind. Sadly, San Diego's magic number is down to four. Essentially, that means the Giants are running out of time. They need to win the next three games against the Padres and then continue to win until the end of the season if they want a chance at the championship.

If that sounds like an unlikely scenario, that's only because it is. Realistically, San Diego will clinch the division. Of course, deep down, I'm hoping the Giants have a miracle winning streak that lasts until the commissioner tells them to stop winning and wear their rings already, but I know better. Hope for this season dwindles. Now is a good time to start finding hope in the 2006 season.

On another baseball note: Last week, the evening news reported that Barry hit his 707th homer. I only remember that because they used a graphic of Bonds with the caption, "Homerun Qwest". I'm not sure what a "homerun qwest" is, but I'm guessing it's like a home run quest, but with more typos. I hope they do a better job of spellchecking. Otherwise, viewers can expect to see coverage of the "American Leg Pendant Race" and the "Whirl Ceres" in October.

Going to the Game to See the Umpire

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I've been sporadically following NPR's coverage of the John Roberts confirmation hearing. Listening to the proceedings has been fascinating and exhausting. Fascinating because it's the first time I ever paid any attention to a Supreme Court nomination. Exhausting because there is only so much political rhetoric and legalese that I can handle before my brain screams for sanity. As I listened to yesterday's witness testimonies for and against the nominee, my imagination grew bored and wandered into this scene�

Seventeen senators, wearing baseball uniforms, sit on leather chairs placed in the dugouts of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in the District of Columbia. John Roberts, wearing judicial robes, a chest protector and a facemask, sits behind home plate. The media huddles on the infield grass, cameras poised, ready to capture every sound bite, every furrowed brow and every drooping eyelid. With the exception of the beer-bellied man banging thunder sticks with the words stare decisis on them, three bloggers sitting in the outfield bleachers blogging about the hearings, two bloggers aggregating everything the bloggers blog, two journalists reporting on the bloggers and the one journalist blogging about the journalists' coverage of the bloggers, the stadium is empty.

After many hours of unsuccessful attempts to extract answers or opinions, beyond generalities, from the nominee, the committee's final hopes rest with its eighteenth member, Joseph Biden, the senator from Delaware. With most of his thirty minutes on the mound spent, Biden makes one last assault on the mystery man known as John Roberts.

Biden: I'm sure you're not going to answer this, Ump, but I'm going to try anyway. Looking back at the pitch that Randy Johnson threw over the head of John Kruk in the 1993 All-Star Game, would you agree that it was a ball?
Roberts: Yes.
Biden: Yes? Wait. You answered a question. I'm confused. Can you elaborate?
Roberts: Yes.
Biden: Uh, then please elaborate.
Roberts: Yes, I agree that what he pitched was a ball.
Biden: Let me rephrase. Was that particular pitch in or out of the strike zone, as you understand it, in a physical sense?
Roberts: Well, the umpire in that instance declared it out of the strike zone. I believe most umpires would say it was not a strike and as the rulebook defines the strike zone, so would I.
Biden: That was rather vague, but since I used most of my questioning time to eloquently articulate the importance of clean helmets, let us move on. How do you feel about the pitch Johnson threw?
Roberts: I feel that it wasn't in the strike zone.
Biden: I get that, Ump, but how do you feel about that pitch, not as an umpire, not based on any rulebook, but as a shortstop, a right-handed hitter, somebody named John?
Roberts: I don't see how that is rele-
Biden: You're not answering the question.
Arlen Specter: (from the top step of the home dugout) Now, come on, Joe, let him finish!
Biden: Fine. Go on. Go on and continue not to answer.
Roberts: -vant.
Biden: Okay, let me ask it this way, with your permission. What is your view, based on "the rules", of the strike zone if John Kruk were my father?
Roberts: Well, I can't speak to that specific plate appearance.
Biden: Of course you can't. You dirty rotten -
Specter: Thank you, Senator Biden. You are out of time.

I'll cut it off there since my imagination continued incoherently into confirmation hearing oblivion. All I know is that with another Bush nominee on the way, I can't wait to see the excitement and heat that one generates.

I've Got My Barry Back-Barry Back...

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Barry Bonds is coming back tonight. I would say I'm ecstatic, but the media hype has sucked every ounce of excitement from the news. Since before the season began, they've been doggedly reporting rumors of his prospective return.

First, it was after the All-Star break. Then, it was before the All-Star break. One day they showed Barry training at the park. The next day they reported he had undergone his third knee surgery. Later, Barry said he might not play this season. Now he is preparing to play in the first of twenty remaining games. Maybe.

Trying to keep track of Bonds has been more challenging than playing that find-the-ball-under-the-cap game at the ballpark after drinking one-too-many beers. The best strategy in both cases is to ignore the fuss and wait until somebody inevitably yells the final result. ("Middle! It�s under the middle one!")

All that aside, the fact remains that Barry is back and seeing how he is Mr. Bonds, Living Legend, his fans and the Giants have certain expectations of him. What are they? Well, I don't know about other people, but here is my short list of modest expectations. I expect him to:
  1. Make a minimum of 80 plate appearances.
  2. Get on base every time.
  3. Hit at least 20 home runs.
  4. Take San Francisco on a twenty-game winning streak to beat San Diego and Los Angeles for the lead in the National League West.
  5. Do it all without injuring himself again.
  6. Behave in a polite and friendly manner towards his fans and the press.

With the exception of the sixth item, I don't think I�m asking too much.

Yosemite: Seven Days Late


We drove to Yosemite on Sunday morning. Despite it being Labor Day weekend, we didn't encounter any traffic. High gas prices must have kept everybody off the roads and close to home.

Instead of heading directly for the valley, we drove to Tuolumne Grove, which is near Crane Flat, off Big Oak Flat Road. We hiked amongst the giant sequoias, some reaching into the sky, some stretching across the ground. While walking along, we came upon the remnants of a towering tunnel tree. It looked as though lightning had struck it, leaving little more than the archway cut through the trunk.

Next, we stopped by Siesta Lake, a dying pond by Tioga Road. It looked more like a marsh than a lake. Eventually, it will look more like a meadow than a marsh. We didn't stay long, but I thought the spot would be ideal on a cool day, when mosquitoes weren't as likely to be about.

We continued to White Wolf, one of the popular lodging areas in Yosemite's high country. It has a dining hall, market, four cabins and twenty-four canvas tent cabins. Because it's open less than three months a year - July through September - obtaining reservations is difficult. I hope we can stay there next summer.

Later, we registered at Housekeeping Camp where we relaxed the rest of the day. To be able to stop and do nothing but appreciate nature was a blessing. As darkness came, it grew chilly, but we braved the cold, bundled up, grabbed our star guide and searched for constellations in the clear night sky.

On Monday, the morning began brisk, but it warmed quickly. We brewed a pot of macadamia nut coffee and ate our customary Deg muffins from Degnan's Deli. We read by the Merced River and, for a while, had the entire beach to ourselves. The river was so calm. It was hard to believe that only a few months ago the same river was several feet higher and rushing by us. It seemed as though nature had shut off the water supply, allowing the waterfalls and streams to run dry.

Before leaving, we stopped by the bookstore and gift shop to inspect the latest merchandise. I bought a 2006 Yosemite desk calendar, the Yosemite Road Guide - a book about the road markers placed throughout the park - and Fur and Loafing in Yosemite, a collection of Farley comics set in - you guessed it - Yosemite.

Farley is a comic strip by Phil Frank that the San Francisco Chronicle features every weekday. My favorite character is Alphonse, an urbanized black bear who loves the S.F. Giants. He wears a baseball jersey and raids campsites for the sports section to see how his team is doing. He's my type of bear. I wonder what he thinks about Bonds returning tonight.

10,000

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Not so long ago, Bay Area sportscasters were making much ado about the Giants getting their 10,000th victory. At the time, I thought San Francisco's PR machine was working overtime and scraping the bottom of the barrel for any random tidbit to bolster morale. I mean, considering the number of games franchises have played in the history of the sport (more than a century's worth), it would seem commonplace for teams to have five-digit win totals, right?

Not necessarily.

To verify my assumption, I donned my cap as part-time baseball statistics dork and trawled through the MLB database for answers. As the following table shows, I was wrong. Only San Francisco has reached the five-digit milestone so far.

TeamWL%GamesUnder
San Francisco Giants10,0198,533.54018,552-
Chicago Cubs9,8769,339.51419,215124
Atlanta Braves9,7429,600.50419,342258
Los Angeles Dodgers9,6948,798.52418,492306
St. Louis Cardinals9,6669,020.51718,686334
Cincinnati Reds9,5099,183.50918,692491
Pittsburgh Pirates9,4769,178.50818,654524
New York Yankees9,1707,018.56616,188830
Philadelphia Phillies8,75110,025.46618,7761,249
Boston Red Sox8,3377,871.51416,2081,663

Since all thirty teams have historical winning percentages hovering around .500, it only makes sense that the oldest teams would be closest to the 10,000-victory mark. This is true with the exception of the Yankees who have played 2,000 less games than the Giants. If the Evil Empire continue its winning ways, it is on pace to reach 10,000 faster than any other team in the league and by the year 2014.

Of the teams on the list, the next team likely to reach the meaningless milestone will be the Cubs sometime in 2007. The Giants' rivals, the L.A. Dodgers, are on pace to top 10,000 in the 2009 season. The other local team and the more successful of the two this season, the Oakland Athletics, will win their 10,000th game in 2032, when I'm 58, should I be so lucky to still be alive. By then, I would also hope the Giants had won at least one World Series title.

Of the older teams, Philadelphia has the longest way to go. No one seemed to celebrate the news that the Phillies reached the other 10,000 milestone this year. Then again, Philadelphia's PR machine probably didn't want word to spread about being the first team to 10,000 losses. They are 1,249 games away from 10,000 wins and 1,274 games under .500. Rich only has to wait 17 years for his beloved Phillies to accomplish the first milestone, but will probably have to bide his time a little longer before they break even.

Of course, if he needs something to brighten his day, he only has to think about the poor Tampa Bay fans. Their team not only has the worst historical winning percentage (.401), but the Devil Rays won't be anywhere near 10,000 wins for another 146 years. As some not-so-famous baseball commentator probably once said, "Sucks to be them."

N.L. 5, A.L. 7

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One would think that after seven consecutive victories by the American League, I would learn my lesson and root for the league with the designated hitter. But going into Tuesday's All-Star Game, I still had faith in the National League. It never failed.

Okay, it might have flinched when Miguel Tejada launched John Smoltz's pitch over the outfield fence in the second inning. It may have wobbled slightly after Ichiro Suzuki slapped a single for two runs in the fourth. It might have blinked and mispronounced Mark Teixeira's name after he hit a two-run homer off of Oakland native, Dontrell Willis. But my faith never failed.

The National League was down by seven runs going into the seventh inning, but battled back belatedly. They scored at least one run in each of the last three innings. Moises Alou, San Francisco's lone representative, doubled and scored one of the N.L.'s five runs. He also walked. (The other Bay Area player, Oakland's Justin Duchscherer, didn't make an appearance.) They're late-inning comeback boosted my faith and kept it afloat until the last miserable and predictable out.

For better or worse, the All-Star Game now "means something". The winning American League earns home field advantage in the World Series. I don't understand it. If it's supposed to help boost fan interest and television ratings, it isn't working. They should simply flip a coin to decide which team receives the postseason advantage. It's a lot cheaper and allows the Midsummer Classic to be more like the exhibition game it's supposed to be and less like a World Series game played two and a half months before the World Series. Until it reverts back to a superstar showcase, I have to keep hoping the National League will break the eight-game streak and take next year's game.

The Palm is Mightier Than the Pen?

I don't have my Palm with me this morning. It's sitting on my desk at work, which is fine, but it slows the whole writing process down a notch or two. This assumes, of course, that my brain typically comes up with thoughts faster than my pen puts ink down on paper. Whether or not this is true, I can't say for sure, but for the time being, let's pretend I own a very slow pen.

While we're at it, let's also pretend that it's a beautiful day outside. It seems the weather around here has been suffering from severe mood swings lately. It's sunny and hot one day, windy and cool the next and downright rainy the day following. With any luck, tomorrow will bring snow. What month is this again?

On a positive note, the wet weather doesn't seem to be negatively affecting San Francisco's losing streak. It's still going strong. They've dropped three in a row and nine of the last ten games. Of course, they aren't the only ones on a slide. The entire National League West seems to be struggling as interleague play gets underway. Only the Dodgers won yesterday (3-1 over the Tigers).

Today, there's a potluck at lunch to kick off the office's clean up effort as we prepare to move in a few weeks. The event is what some in the business world call a morale booster. For the potluck, people have a choice of cooking a dish or contributing five dollars. I think my morale might be better boosted if I didn't have to spend potential Skittle/coffee money for a gathering held during the time that I usually attempt to escape from the confines of my cube. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying. I'm sure I'll feel better once I have five dollars worth of potato salad and soda in me.

To think, I could have written twice as much nonsense if only I had my Palm.

Repetition and Variation

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Baseball is all about repetition and variation. A baseball game is essentially a series of three hundred pitches or so. With each one, the primary pieces start anew. The pitcher takes the mound. The catcher gives the sign. The batter steps into the box. It's done over and over again. If each iteration were the same and produced the same result, it might grow boring, but it's the minor variations that make the game beautiful. Different batters, different pitchers, different men on base, different possibilities. With each pitch, a stitch is sewn. Over a season, patterns develop and stories of individuals and teams and legacies and dynasties are woven together. Baseball has a balance of order and chaos, skill and chance, repetition and variation. It's a wondrous thing to watch and another reason why I love the game.

A Non-Meme Friday Five

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Here are five things off the top of my head on a sunny Friday morning.

First, I can't believe Constantine went home on Wednesday. I mean, I'm glad he's gone, but I just can't believe America showed him so little love. By the way, his farewell rendition of "How You Remind Me" was worse than the one that got him kicked off.

Second, let's talk about the weather. I'm only happy when it rains during the week, while I'm at my desk. If it were possible, I'd ask the rain to take an hour for lunch. Rain on the weekend should be illegal.

Third, have you seen the Starbucks cups with the little "The Way I See It" blurbs? My favorite is #33, a poem by Nikki Giovanni...

Hot allusions
Metaphors over easy
Side order of rhythm
Grit/s plain or with sauce
Message:
If you want to be a poet
You've got to eat right

Fourth, the Giants have a two-game winning streak going, which is only notable because it isn't a two-game losing streak. If you read Peanuts, you know that even Charlie Brown's baseball team can have a two-game winning streak.

Win #1:

Peppermint Patty: Bad news, Chuck. My team can't play your team today. We have too many guys who aren't feeling well. We're going to have to forfeit the game. You win, Chuck.
Charlie Brown: All right, team! I don't want any letdown now! We've got a streak going!

Win #2:

Franklin: Hello, Charlie Brown? This is Franklin. We won't be able to play your team today. Five of our guys can't make it. We'll just have to forfeit the game. You win, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown: I can't believe it. A two-game winning streak.

The Giants had yesterday off, so their streak lasted an extra day. In order for it to grow, they'll have to win against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. By the way, Arizona is first in the West. When did that happen? I suspect the division lead will be changing hands many times this season.

Fifth, on the light rail, the only thing more annoying (and rude) than a person talking loudly on a cell phone is a person playing drums. You think I'm kidding, but the guy had an iPod and sticks. He was drumming on his skateboard to a song only he could hear. That went on for about a minute or so before a woman asked him to stop. He had the luxury of playing the tough guy behind his reflective sunglasses. He stared at her for second before returning to his own little world, all the while never missing a beat. She asked him again and he suddenly noticed that everybody was staring at him, including a couple of large, mean-looking guys who had been exchanging jailhouse stories. He decided it was in his best interest to stop.

Of course, this got me to thinking how it might be cool to have a train band, which is like a house band, but with a consistent gig playing tracks on the tracks. Oh, how I crack only myself up. They could occupy a raised stage in the last car and provide entertainment for those who desire a little live music on their way to work. Just a thought. Go out and have a great weekend.

State of the Giants: 8 Games In

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The Giants have played eight games so far this season: five against the Dodgers and three against the Rockies. They swept Colorado, but only took one game from Los Angeles and that was the season opener.

Although their big guns (Bonds and Alou) aren't in the lineup, the team has still managed to score runs. Unfortunately, they haven't scored more runs than their bullpen has allowed. Unless their relief pitching improves, San Francisco is in for a long season. It's no use for guys like Lowry, Schmidt and Williams to pitch gems, if guys like Benitez, Brower and Walker are going to give away the game in the late innings.

The season is only a week old and the Giants have an even record. That's probably a higher winning percentage than most folks figured they'd have, but if they don't shore up their relief pitching, they're going to find themselves in a hole too deep for even Barry or Moises to dig them from.

This evening, they begin a three-game series against the Rockies, a team with a seven-game losing streak. Let's hope San Francisco can push Colorado's losses into double digits before traveling to San Diego on Monday. With Noah Lowry on the mound tonight, they have a good chance to taking the first game.

The 2005 Baseball Season

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Baseball season is nearly here. For the Giants, it begins next Tuesday as they take on the Dodgers in San Francisco. Based on their website, I'm guessing L.A.'s theme this year is "Think Blue". Not very original, but S.F. isn't exactly flexing its creative muscles either. The Giants are introducing "Orange Fridays", which encourages fans to show their spirit by wearing as much orange as possible. I've always been a fan of the black and orange, but mostly of the black. I can only take the orange in small doses. Steering clear of the park on Fridays sounds like a good idea.

Despite the news that Barry Bonds will miss the first part of the season, I'm looking forward to attending games at SBC Park. They've expanded the food menu this year. In addition to clam chowder, garlic fries and sushi, fans will also have their choice of chicken adobo burritos, Chinese food (from Panda Express) and more. I know I shouldn't get excited about Chinese fast food, but it tickles the brain thinking about eating from a rice bowl while attending the game. I still think bringing dim sum to the park would be hilarious. It's a new spin on an old pastime.

This is probably as good a spot as any to say something about steroids. I rarely use the word "hate", but in this case, it's appropriate. I hate steroids and their use in baseball. I hate how they're being used in every sport. It's frustrating to see the league responding so slowly and timidly to the situation. I wish they would step up, take a stronger stand and make a genuine effort to clean up baseball.

One of this year's promotions at SBC Park will be the Charlie Brown Bobblehead Doll. None of the previous baseball bobbleheads ever really appealed to me. Honestly, most of them are creepy with their wobbly oversized heads and dead eyes. But the one of Charlie Brown looks cool. He's wearing the comic-strip-style cap and a Giants jersey. To me, he is the sport's perfect representative. He's hardworking and steroid-free. He gives everything to the game he loves even though he can't play it well enough to win. If I could, I'd get it, but the promotion is only for the first 10,000 kids (14 and under) and it just seems wrong to adopt solely for the purpose of obtaining a collectible.

Baseball Talk in February

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Yesterday, Major League Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig, announced that San Francisco will host the 2007 All-Star Game. That seems like ages from now, but I'm still excited. If I had a list of things to do before leaving the planet, attending an All-Star Game would be on it, ranking somewhere below attending a World Series game or an Olympic event. I wonder how difficult or expensive it would be to obtain tickets.

Also yesterday, San Jose's mayor announced that he would bring a professional baseball team to downtown. While exciting news, it isn't the first time the South Bay has pursued a Major League franchise. Although nobody said it explicitly, everybody knows that San Jose hopes to lure the Athletics away from Oakland.

How much will it cost? Where would a stadium go? How would it affect the environment and traffic? How real is this latest attempt? Can the city make it happen this time? There are so many questions. Now it's a matter of waiting to see if the mayor addresses these concerns with his first pass at a serious proposal.

I hope my hometown gets a big league baseball team someday. At the same time, I just don't want to be too optimistic, only to see my hopes dashed again.

Code Three Fog Nod

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Yesterday morning, I wrote down four words on a scrap of paper.
  1. code
  2. three
  3. fog
  4. nod

It was meant to remind me of what to write about here. I covered fog yesterday, but I have a feeling I'm not going to get to the other three before whatever "revelation" I had fades from my mind. So, I'm going to jot down what I think I was thinking before it's too late.

Code: I recently finished reading The Da Vinci Code. It was the first time I ever felt like I was reading a movie. It had 105 chapters, not including the prologue and epilogue. Every chapter was a short scene, which gave the book a fast-paced, but choppy feel. It was as though the author was directing an action film instead of writing an adventure story. Instead of creating characters, he created acting roles. Instead of creating churches or museums, he designed sets to look like them. While the story piqued my curiosity about Da Vinci's art, the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar, the book was unsatisfying. That being said, I bet it will translate nicely to film and will be right up there with National Treasure. Roger Ebert's review of that movie is hilarious.

Three: The Oakland Athletics recently broke up their talented starting rotation of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, otherwise known as The Big Three. They all came up through the A's organization and reached the majors around 1999 or 2000. The team was lucky to bring up three young, effective pitchers at the same time. I don't know why, but this month, after four years and within a matter of days, the front office decided to break up the "brothers". They sent Hudson to Atlanta, Mulder to St. Louis and Zito to his room to think of reasons why they shouldn't ship him to Montreal/Washington. The news of their trades was disappointing.

Nod: Yesterday, as I walked to work in the fog, I greeted a passerby by way of a nod. The man, looking rather stern and serious, not only nodded, but nodded with a smile. That made my day and got me thinking about nods. My habit started back in middle school with friends and eventually graduated to complete strangers. It's a casual, nonverbal way of saying hello or acknowledging others. When I'm feeling unusually chipper or talkative, I might add in a whatsup, hey or dude. Here are some other informal (and useless) findings from years of nodding:
  • Men are more likely to initiate nods.
  • Men are also more likely to return nods than women are.
  • Cyclists return nods more often than pedestrians do.
  • Nods don't preclude handshakes, but often accompany them.
  • Nods don't go over so well with older generations or authority figures like police officers, priests or bosses.

Lunar Corn Sox

I missed last night's lunar eclipse, which is sad because I enjoy gazing at moon. I heard it was a beautiful shade of orange and red, not necessarily Red Sox red, but it was close enough. More about them later.

While the eclipse was happening, I was bagging frozen corn at the Second Harvest Food Bank warehouse. Whenever we volunteer, we never know what task we'll be tackling. Usually, we're assigned to reclamation, where we inspect, categorize and repack various food items that grocery stores deem too damaged to put on the shelves. The packaging may look less than perfect, but the food is still good.

Last night's task involved corn. Lots and lots of corn. While bagging and boxing corn may not seem like an obvious source of fun, it was at least a ton of fun (once you got beyond all of the corny jokes). In the span of two hours, our team of eleven bagged and boxed roughly 6,870 ears of corn.

If well-oiled machines wore hair nets, aprons and latex gloves, then we were a well-oiled machine with numb hands. My bin of corn happened to be extra frozen. While other bins were relativitely easy to plow through, mine required some corn on corn chiseling (a.k.a. corn abuse) to break the ears loose.

Afterwards, after the clouds had moved in to obscure any evidence of the eclipsed moon, we went to BJ's Restaurant and Brewery, which was showing the World Series on every screen. We arrived just in time to watch the ninth inning as Boston attempted to finish off St. Louis.

One person from the bar cheered when Pujols led off with a hit, but the entire place went wild with cheers and applause when Renteria grounded back to the pitcher, Foulke, for the final out of the series. It was unreal and I was overjoyed.

For most Red Sox fans, they've been waiting a lifetime for yesterday's win. The wait was nicely expressed by a Nike commercial of all things. It showed two friends and lifelong Boston fans watching baseball from the front row of Fenway Park. As the years pass from 1919 up to 2004, we see the men grow from young boys to old men, the whole time rooting for their team to win and enduring many years of disappointment. It finishes on the happy note of this year's championship victory.

For San Francisco fans, like myself, I only hope we don't have to wait 36 more years to see the Giants accomplish the same feat.

Not the Copycat

Ah, another baseball entry that starts with only a title. This should be interesting and more meandering than usual. As I drove in this morning, my mind kept hearing the phrase, "Not the momma. Not the momma!" It's what the baby dinosaur always told the dad on Dinosaurs, a television comedy from the early 90s. I remember it for the same reason I remember Fran Drescher's distinctly nasal voice on The Nanny: it bugged me beyond belief.

Anyway, this post was to be about not wanting to be a copycat. Yesterday, so many blogs were raving about the Boston Red Sox and the greatest comeback in baseball history. I wanted to write about it, too, but was reluctant. What could I possibly say that wasn't said already? I'd simply be an echo. I sat and read many entries from everyday people and articles from professional sportswriters. So many voices, yet they all said the same thing. It reminded me of watching those large girl groups on the Japanese show, Hey! Hey! Hey! Music Champ. It's scary seeing seventeen teenaged girls sing a song in one-part harmony.

I really don't want to be one of the girls in the chorus. It's an ego thing. My ego says, "You need to be better. You need to be original." My ego is wrong, of course. I don't need to be either of those things. It would be nice, but it isn't necessary. If my ego has its way, this blog won't have a record of how I felt while watching Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS. If it happens that I feel the same way everybody else felt, then more power to the feeling.

Game 6 brought me sheer exhilaration. To watch Curt Schilling pitch seven innings of one-run baseball on an injured and bleeding ankle was incredible. His performance was redemption for a poor Game 1 showing. I loved the slogan on his shirt during the post-game interview, "Why not us?" There would be redemption for Mark Bellhorn, who hit a three-run homer to give Boston the lead.

The game also saw redemption for the umpires after reversing two incorrect calls. One involved declaring Bellhorn's hit a home run and the other calling Alex Rodriguez out at first. I'll forever have the memory of A-Rod blatantly slapping the ball from Bronson Arroyo's outstretched glove.

The slumping Johnny Damon redeemed himself in Game 7. Coming in, he had been hitting 3 for 29 in the series. That night, he went 3 for 6, with a single, a two-run dinger and a grand slam. Watching him swing in the slow motion replay and witnessing the way his hair moved as he made contact reminded me of a L'Oreal commercial. I half expected him to remove his helmet after the home run, toss his hair back and say to the camera, "Because I'm worth it."

The ALCS was the most dramatic and riveting sports event I've seen in a long time. It left me feeling drained, stunned, overjoyed and worried. Drained from the constant tension. Stunned that Boston won the series after being down three games. Overjoyed that they beat the smug Yankees in New York of all places. And worried that after this unbelievable display of never-say-die, they won't succeed in their ultimate redemption: winning the World Series.

Fenway Drama

As I was leaving work last night, Boston and New York were tied at four runs a piece in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game 5. The intensity of the game had been steadily growing, reaching a point where it was nearly too much to bear. Could I really handle the stress of yet another leadoff hit by a Yankee slugger? I missed the rest of the six-hour, fourteen-inning battle, but around midnight, I sneaked a peek on the web to discover Boston had eked out another win.

The last three games of the ALCS, in historical Fenway Park, have been epic. The Red Sox seemed doomed after Game 3, when the Yankees smacked them silly with nineteen runs and took a three-game lead in the best-of-seven series. The last two games have been dramatic extra-inning struggles where the underdogs have needed every ounce of fight to triumph over the favorites.

On Sunday, I missed the beginning of Desperate Housewives to watch Episode 4 of Desperate Red Sox. It was Boston's half of the ninth inning. They were down by a run and three outs from elimination. Dave Roberts, a pinch runner, was on first base with nobody out. Along with every fan in Fenway, I held my breath and hoped for a miracle.

Roberts stole second and then Billy Mueller, the former Giants third baseman, spanked a single through Mariano Rivera, the untouchable closer, to tie up the game. Hope and anxiety rose with every pitch. The Red Sox failed to score again in the inning. It would take three excruciating innings before David Ortiz hit a two-run homer to keep Boston alive another day. Ortiz has been the man to rescue the Red Sox from certain extinction the last two nights. His single drove in yesterday's winning run.

How long can the Red Sox elude elimination at the hands of the Evil Empire? Can the injured Curt Schilling, the seemingly only clean-shaven member of their team, return to his regular season form and save the day? Will Jon Lieber again shut down Boston's big bats and secure New York's umpteenth trip to the World Series? Will the wild-maned leadoff man, Johnny Damon, finally break out of his 2-for-24 slump? The series returns to Yankee Stadium for Game 6 tonight. I can't wait to see what happens.

The Re-Trounce

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In baseball, the only thing worse than the Trounce is the Re-Trounce. Both are defeats, but one is considerably more painful.

In the Trounce, the winning team, let's call them the Yankees, scores an insane number of runs against the losing team, let's call them the Red Sox. While it's a bad way to lose, it has the upside of unabashedly dashing all hope early. The losing team instantly gets the message they are losers.

The Re-Trounce delays this instant message. At first, it looks identical to the Trounce. The Yankees cream the Red Sox early on. Hope for salvaging the game seems squashed. Then, in the late innings, the Red Sox mount a miraculous rally. They come within a run of their opponents. Suddenly, hope reignites as momentum shifts and victory seems possible. But as quickly as it's sparked, the winning team snuffs it out. In a final show of force, they stomp out the losing team's hope like a discarded cigarette butt. Hope is crushed not once, but twice.

Last night, Boston suffered a Re-Trounce in New York. The Yankees took an early eight-run lead. The Red Sox mustered a late seven-run comeback only to have New York shut the door with two more runs in the bottom of the eighth. With any luck and some great pitching from Pedro, Boston can bounce back from the Re-Trounce and win Game 2 to tie up the series.

Back to Baseball

When you're far from home and eager to explore, things that were once considered critical (maybe even essential) for life, seem to lose some importance. Take the baseball playoffs, for example. I feared I'd be one of those guys desperately seeking scores from every possible news source (newspapers, cable television, pubs), but it turned out my fear was unfounded. This leads me to believe that either A) I'm not as big a baseball fan as I thought I was or B) I'm a big, but well-adjusted baseball fan. B is wishful thinking. A is more likely the case.

Last Tuesday afternoon was my first chance to call the family and let them know I had made it to Salzburg. I was calling from a phone booth across from the beautiful Residenz Fountain. The conversation went something like this (sort of)...

Me: We made it here safely.
Mom: That's good.
Me: It's beautiful here. The fountains and cathedrals and architecture. The hills are so green!
Mom: Your sister wants to know if you ran up a hill with your arms wide open singing "The hills are alive!"
Me: Um, no, not yet.
Mom: Did you hear? Both Bay Area teams lost.
Me: Oh, that sucks. By the way, they have amazing statues here. There's one of Mozart right around the corner.
Mom: Your sister says you have to find a hill and sing the song before you leave.
Me: (rolling eyes) Um, yeah.

Yesterday, I finally caught up with other baseball news:
  • L.A. lost to St. Louis
  • Boston will be facing New York in the ALCS
  • Houston advanced after trouncing Atlanta
  • Ken Caminiti passed away
Caminiti was a San Jose State alumnus and one of my favorite players while he was with the Astros and Padres. And in case anyone was wondering, I didn't find a hill or sing the song from The Sound of Music. It just didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Baseball-Related Stress

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I don't want Chicago to lose. I just want Cincinnati to win. As I type this, the teams are tied 1-1 in the top of the seventh. Adam Dunn put the Reds up by a run with his 45th homer of the season in the second inning. That allowed me to relax a little. But in the bottom of the third, Chicago's starting pitcher, Glendon Rusch, homered to tie the game. Talk about helping your own cause. Now I'm tense again.

With Chicago and San Francisco in a tie for the National League Wild Card spot and Houston just half a game behind, every game is crucial. The Giants have two more against the dangerous Padres and finish the season with a three-game series against the division-leading Dodgers. Knowing the guys in orange and black, they'll win and lose in just the right sequence to maximize my stress level. It will all come down to the final game on Sunday and the final at-bat with men in scoring position and the slumping A.J. Pierzynski at the plate. The pessimist in me has this feeling.

The seventh inning just ended. Chicago managed to produce a run out of a bases loaded, nobody out situation and took the lead. Now I have to hold my breath and hope Cincinnati can muster a comeback.

Tonight, San Francisco sends young Noah Lowry up against San Diego's veteran, David Wells. It's going to be a nail-biter. I barely survived listening to all of last night's game, so I might tune in to an inning or two before getting lost in another episode of Lost. So, go Reds! But more importantly, go Giants!

Indians Spank the Yankees

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I wouldn't be much of a baseball fan if I didn't mention New York's 22-0 loss to Cleveland last night. As the recap says, the Indians handed the boys in pinstripes "the largest loss in the 101-year history of the Yankees". Any team versus Steinbrenner's $180 million roster is an automatic underdog, but a victory on this scale by Cleveland, a team once synonymous with perennial losing and twice parodied in film, is extra sweet.

On a more local note, the A's are on an eight-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Giants are tied for the wild card spot in the National League. I didn't realize it, but there's a special page dedicated to Barry's pursuit of No. 700. His career home run count currently sits at 696.

The Cheap Seats

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When seated out in the right field bleachers, I wind up looking at the scoreboard more often than at home plate. I'm not complaining, just making an observation. The diehard bleacher fans now wave giant green or yellow Oakland Athletics flags every time a home team batter comes to the plate. It's a sad substitute for the old left field drum corps with their beats and chants. It seems they went away when Miguel Tejada left for Baltimore.

On Tuesday, I attended my sixth baseball game of the 2004 season. Thanks to Barry Zito and Eric Chavez, the Athletics held on to beat the Tigers by a score of 5-4. I had a personal five-game losing streak going in and it took a close contest to snap it.

This year, I've alternated between eating standard stadium food (read: hot dogs) and less traditional items. At SBC Park, I haven't tried the sushi or edamame, but have enjoyed their clam chowder in a bread bowl and rice and beans with salsa. At the Coliseum, I tried their tofu burger and thought it was so-so. The downside of baseball gourmet is the price. $7.50 for clam chowder and $3.00 for coffee tends to diminish one's appetite. Since the ballparks allow it, I might bring my own food next time. I don't know why, but I think it would be hilarious (and cheaper) to break out some dim sum, tea and chopsticks while sitting in the stands.

We like beer flat as can be
We like our dogs with mustard and relish
We got a great pitcher what's his name
Well we can't even spell it
We don't worry about the pennant much
We just like to see the boys hit it deep
There's nothing like the view from the cheap seats

- "The Cheap Seats" by Alabama

A San Francisco Weekend

I spent this past weekend in San Francisco. The two-day, two-night adventure began with a BART ride to the Powell Station on Friday evening. I've only stayed in the city once in my life and that was for a conference in college many years ago. I met M at the station and dropped my luggage off at the hotel. We then wandered through the shopping district surrounding Union Square.

Afterwards, we had dinner at Puccini and Pinetti. The food was ordinary (farfalle with chicken and rapini), but the drink was quite good (The Nutty Italian: a combination of amaretto, irish cream and coffee).

Saturday morning found me walking down Market Street towards the Embarcadero Center. I was in search of any local cafe that served coffee and a hot breakfast. Starbucks was off limits. After a solid fifteen minutes of passing nothing but Starbucks, I caved, bought an overpriced cup of coffee and looped back towards the hotel. That's when I found Franciscan Croissants. I ate a hot ham, egg and cheese croissant while sitting by the window and writing. It was a great way to start the day.

I then ventured over to SBC Park to see what McCovey Cove was like without the usual throng of baseball fans. It was relatively peaceful and would have been a great place to hang out and read if it weren't for the flock of scalpers, perched at various street corners, looking to buy tickets to resell at game time.

In the afternoon, we walked over to Justin Herman Plaza for the Expo. Vendors were selling running shoes and apparel, health foods and power drinks. There were also organizers from other marathons and race events trying to recruit participants even before one mile had been run in San Francisco. Interesting, but way too crowded.

We escaped to Japantown and had dinner at Kushi Tsuru, one of many sushi options in the area. The meal was quite good, but I want to try some of the other restaurants next time.

Sunday was race day and it started early, earlier than any Sunday should legally be allowed to start. After the run, we saw Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle at the Metreon, which kindly shows twenty-five minutes of commercials and previews before every film. I won't watch another one there unless I have a book and reading light handy. The movie itself was hilarious. There were gross out moments, but many more laugh-out-loud moments. Both leads were likable, especially John Cho, who played Harold. It'll be fun to see again when it comes to the cheap theater.

To finish off a great weekend in San Francisco, we went to a Giants game. Last time, the Padres pounded them. This time, the Cardinals clobbered them 6-1. St. Louis proved why they're leading their division by 10.5 games. Although the home team lost (again), being at the ballpark is still the best way to enjoy the sport. Of course, I wouldn't mind if Bonds hit a homer and Schmidt actually won while I was in attendance. I'm just saying.

SD 9, SF 4

Thursday morning. I'm at work. The phone rings twice. I answer it.

Me: Hello?
Mystery Caller: How spontaneous can you be?
Me: Uh, pretty spontaneous, I guess. Who is this?
MC: You already know. Go ask your boss for the day off.
Me: What? The whole day?
MC: Do it.
Me: Okay. Just a second.

I set down the phone and hold an internal debate. Time passes. I ask my boss. Clouds roll by. He says okay. A copying machine collates and staples. I return to my cubicle and find two baseball tickets on my desk. San Diego vs. San Francisco. I pick up the phone again.

Me: My boss approved.
MC: Good. Now find somebody to go with you.
Me: But wait, how am I supposed to repay you?
MC: Just have a great time.
Me: Are you sure?
MC: Hurry or you'll miss the game.

The mystery caller hangs up. I'm left with a dial tone.

That is how (more or less) my sister and I were able to watch the Padres demolish Jason Schmidt by a score of 9-4. On the bright side, we saw it from the AAA club level where one can order food and drinks right from one's seat. The restrooms and vendor areas were nicer than any I had ever seen at a ballpark. Carpeting, artwork, modest tables and cushioned chairs for eating and full service bars. It was a completely different baseball experience, one I'll likely never have again unless I: a) win the lotto b) go into debt or c) get more mystery calls.

The highlight of the game was seeing Rod Beck pitch in the eighth inning. The former Giants closer was and remains one of my favorite pitchers. His distinctive mustache, signature swinging right arm and number 47 were still there, but thankfully, his mullet was gone. San Francisco lost, but I had a great time. Thank you, Mystery Caller.

Laissez-Faire Writing and More

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Ah, the beauty of simply rambling. I wanted to set goals for this entry. Be original. Be funny. Be well thought out. Be articulate. I was about to lay down the law, but had the sudden realization that journal entries, like children, see rules as a challenge, something to defy. They would rebel against everything I told them. I'd set a four-hundred-word curfew and they would break it and try to sneak in a few extra sentences. They would grow up to be multi-paragraphed scribblings that resented their author. So now, I'm just sitting here, letting the entry write itself. The only way it's going to learn is if I allow it to make its own mistakes. The best I can do is to be here to support it. It's called the laissez-faire approach to writing.

Yesterday was my parents' 31st anniversary. To celebrate, they saw a performance of The Producers at the Center for Performing Arts. My sister and I saw it last week (she snagged comp tickets) and we liked it so much, we decided to buy them a pair of tickets. It's Mel Brooks. It has dancing Nazis, a Swedish bombshell, a gay singing Hitler and a chorus line of old ladies with walkers. My parents are conservatives, but they got a kick out of it. It's the best musical I've seen since Les Mis�rables came to San Jose last year.

I heard part of the All-Star Game broadcast on the radio Tuesday night. I listened as Roger Clemens was shelled by the American Leaguers. He gave up two three-run homers and faced nine batters including Oakland's Mark Mulder, the winning pitcher. The A.L. will again have home field advantage during the World Series. I guess that means San Francisco will have to take the first two from Boston to minimize that advantage. Thursdays are good for making brash predictions.

Last night, we had dinner at Cafe Gibraltar, a Mediterranean restaurant in El Granada, a town just a few miles north of Half Moon Bay. Depending on where one sits, there's an amazing view of the ocean, which probably looks phenomenal at sunset. If you were me, there was an amazing view of the slightly disturbing paintings on the wall. The bread and soup were tasty. For the main course, I had the Gnocchi con Funghi, potato dumplings with mixed mushrooms, which sounded enticing, but was disappointingly bland.

Tonight will conclude my three-day whirlwind peninsula dining tour. Tuesday was Chevys in South San Francisco, yesterday was Cafe Gibraltar and tonight will be sushi at Fuji in the city. To provide balance, next week will probably be a five-day dine-in affair, a home stand if you will, filled with leftovers, Happy Meals, reality television and Netflix.

That last paragraph was noticeably brief, which must mean this entry is nearly tuckered out and ready for bed. After it brushes its teeth (and flosses), I'll attempt to sing it a little Gavin DeGraw, a few lines of lyric expressing how I feel, and then wish it a good night and sweet dreams.

I don't mean to be so strange
But my life just took a change
'Cause I just found someone special
And that's really something special
If you knew me

Boston, San Francisco Losses

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Last night was a bad one if you were a fan of the Red Sox, Giants or Todd Glass.

The Yankees trounced the Red Sox 11-3. Boston took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning off a Johnny Damon home run, but then fell apart behind Derek Lowe's pitching. I listened to the massacre over the web.

I watched the Giants lose to the Dodgers by a score of 2-1. Both starting pitchers only gave up one run, but it was a Paul Lo Duca single in the eighth inning that put L.A. on top. Barry Bonds had four plate appearances and walked all four times. He's only nine away from becoming the all-time walk leader. Rickey Henderson currently holds that distinction with 2,191 base on balls.

The Orkin Man

The doorbell rang around 9 PM the other evening. I answered the door thinking it was a neighbor because I couldn't fathom a solicitor being out that late. I was mistaken. John, the Orkin Man, greeted me. Actually, he was more like the Orkin Boy. He was pretty young and I wondered if this was his summer job, going door-to-door to drum up business. He seemed nervous, but was extremely friendly.

John told me horrific tales of ant and spider infestations in the neighborhood and then queried about the status of my household insects. "Oh, I find one here and there every now and then," I said vaguely. He was rather disappointed by this news and seeking to extend his stay, complimented me on my baseball cap and insisted on discussing the sport. We talked for a few minutes until I found a way to politely conclude the conversation and send him away, lest he miss curfew. He didn't make a sale, but I did give him an update on the Athletics and Giants games.

Perusing yesterday's baseball scoreboard, the Giants won their fourth game in a row. With last night's victory over the Dodgers, they've snuck into first place and lead by half a game. Edgardo Alfonzo, San Francisco's third baseman, has been the key to their recent success. Over the last four games, he knocked in thirteen runs. On Sunday, Jason Schmidt pitched against Boston and threw his second one-hitter of the season. The Giants ace quietly ranks in the top three in wins, strikeouts and ERA along with the likes of Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. Let's see if S.F. can sweep L.A. and give themselves a nice cushion in first place.

NYY 10, OAK 8

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Yesterday, I went to my first baseball game of the season. I know. A true fan would have seen many games by now, but I'm off to a slow start. Thankfully, the season is long.

We took BART to Network Associates Coliseum to see the Yankees play the Athletics. We were in the section just behind the right field foul pole, surrounded by Yankee fans who were scattered throughout the stadium. Because of this intermingling, a handful of fights broke out in the later innings. Every time there was one, everybody would stand up and watch the Oakland police haul off two or more angry drunks, one usually wearing a pinstriped jersey and the other typically wearing a Raiders jersey.

Eric Chavez, the A's hard-hitting third baseman, had a good game. He slammed two home runs and made a great defensive play. Lunging to his right, he somehow picked off a sharply hit ground ball, then made an amazing throw, from his knees, that skipped off the dirt and into the first baseman's glove, barely beating the runner.

Oakland was up 8 to 3 going into the seventh inning. Mark Mulder had successfully contained New York's all-star lineup up to that point, but everything soon fell apart. Alex Rodriguez belted a three-run homer and Ruben Sierra doubled to clear the bases. The Yankees suddenly had the lead. The Athletics made three pitching changes that inning.

Once New York was on top, the game was over. Tom Gordon came in to pitch the eighth inning and the untouchable Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth. They shut down the opposition and made the hitters look silly as they swung and missed or watched strikes whiz by them. Eric Karros, the former Dodger, was the final out.

On a slightly unrelated note, I can't believe Barry Bonds' on-base percentage of .704. He is 25 for 54 and has walked 44 times. He's simply incredible.

Tug McGraw

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Last night, I remarked that football, basketball and hockey were nice distractions while one waited for baseball to start again. Fortunately, there weren't any major sports fans in earshot, so I was spared from bodily harm.

Someone then asked me what I loved most about the sport. After making such a bold statement, I naturally stumbled over the question. I love so many things about baseball. I couldn't put my finger on just one.

Then this morning, I heard about Tug McGraw's passing. Over his nineteen-year baseball career, he pitched for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. I first heard of him when the Phillies last made it to the World Series in 1993 (Dykstra, Kruk, Schilling, and Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams). I cringe thinking about that series. Most people these days know him as Tim McGraw's father (assuming they've heard of the country singer).

McGraw is most famous for getting the final strikeout that clinched Philadelphia's only World Series championship back in 1980. That sentence alone is a reason why I love the game. There is a history to it. A great tale can be told of an entire team or a single man.

This morning's Today Show had a clip of Matt Lauer interviewing Tug last year.

Lauer: What was it you loved about baseball?
McGraw: Everything. I can't think of anything I didn't like.

He came up with the answer I was looking for and said it so easily.

Rooting For Underdogs

While I avoid writing a weekend update or thinking about certain people and issues, let's talk baseball.

I have the bad and unfulfilling habit of rooting for the underdogs. I can identify with them way too easily. Chicago and Boston are historical underdogs, but I have other reasons for liking them.

My dad's side of the family is from Illinois, which makes the Cubs a geographical favorite. Plus, I can't get enough of Wrigley Field, the second oldest stadium in the league. I guess that makes them an architectural favorite.

As for Boston, I've been there twice. I was there for a NACA convention way back in college and returned two years ago on a family vacation. I fell in love with the town immediately and that is why the Red Sox are a sentimental favorite.

The World Series is all tied up between the Yankees and Marlins, but I'm rooting for Florida, the undeniable underdogs. The "experts" say they can't win, but that won't stop me from hoping they show the same scrappiness and never-say-die spirit they displayed against San Francisco and Chicago. I'd be disappointed if New York won it all. Again.

I like things that are so good.
You are so, so good.
I like you.
But I am the underdog,
I am the last in line.

Radio Quotes

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"He got it! He got it! He got all of it!"

The baseball commentator was ecstatic as Chicago's Sammy Sosa tied the game with a two-out, two-run blast out of Wrigley Field in the bottom of the ninth. Mike Lowell would later homer in the 11th inning to help Florida win the first game. The Cubs need to get one back tonight, before the Marlins run away with it.

"We have shock and disbelief. Sorrow and depression."

The morning DJ attempted to summarize caller reaction to the election results. The Bay Area was the only region in the state to reject the recall, which is an interesting, but unsurprising bit of trivia. If Schwarzenegger fails, I wonder if we can be held blameless.

Baseball Playoffs

Don't mind me as I ramble on about baseball. I love the sport more than any other and thought I'd jot down a few things.

It was disappointing to see Florida eliminate San Francisco on Saturday. I'm beginning to wonder if the Giants will ever win the World Series in my lifetime.

While I'm a New York Mets fan, I can't stand the Yankees. They always strike me as corporate bullies that need to be humbled by teams with smaller payrolls, like Boston or Oakland.

I'm overjoyed that Chicago beat Atlanta. I can only take so much of the tomahawk chop and their first baseman who shows his temper on the field.

It would be great to see Chicago and Boston in the end, with the Cubbies taking it all. The championship would be between two teams, from historic baseball towns, who haven't won in at least 85 years.

NL West Champs

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For the second year in the row, the Giants are in the playoffs! I'm stoked. Last year, they made it as a wild card team. This year, they led the division throughout the entire season. Unfortunately, the last three teams who stayed in first never reached the World Series. Hopefully, San Francisco can break that streak.

With eleven games left in the season, two pieces of business remain to be finished. The first is achieving the best league record for home field advantage. The other is Barry Bonds� pursuit of third place on the all-time home run list. He is only five shy of passing Willie Mays. He can do it.

By the way, there is no personal item precious enough that requires scaling down the side of a stadium and losing one's life trying to retrieve it.

MIL 4, SF 5

Taken five seconds faster and you would see Leo Estrella, the Milwaukee pitcher, looking in at the catcher, believing he could pitch his way out of a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

Taken five seconds slower and you would see Todd Linden, the San Francisco reserve left fielder, running down to first as he singled. Marquis Grissom, the center fielder, would be crossing the plate to score the winning run.

Looking through the viewfinder from the bleachers in left field, I had a feeling something would happen. It was like having a sixth sense. It was probably from sitting out in the sun too long. Either way, the Giants beat the Brewers on Sunday. Here are five things I will remember about this game:

  1. Barry Bonds made two appearances in the eighth. The first was a walk. The second was an ejection.
  2. We cheered louder for Jose Cruz, Jr. because someone in our group was also named Jose.
  3. The game lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes.
  4. There was a guy who would yell slowly and hoarsely, "Let's go, Giants! Let's go!" He was scary.
  5. There was another guy who would yell, "Let's go, Sandy! Let's go!" He then attempted an awful rendition of "Sandy" from the musical, Grease. He was scarier.

He Makes A Difference

Barry Bonds takes bereavement leave:
8/15, SF loses to Montreal, 1-4
8/16, SF loses to Montreal, 1-4
8/17, SF loses to Montreal, 2-4
8/18, SF loses to Montreal, 0-4

Bonds returns:
8/19, SF beats Atlanta, 5-4

Bonds' tenth inning home run into McCovey Cove ended the Giants' longest losing streak of the season. Thank goodness he's back.

Just So I Know

I went to Music in the Park last night, which was relaxing and fun.

As I walked through the crowd, I felt a tug at my sleeve. I turned and there was a tall built guy wearing a gray long-sleeved t-shirt, white shorts, a red reversed cap and dark shades.

He leaned forward and said over the music, "Hey man, didja know the A's lost today? It was awful. Just thought you'd like to know." I was confused at first, but then I remembered I was wearing an Oakland Athletics visor.

Being quick-thinking and articulate, I replied, "Oh. That sucks. Thanks for the news." Articulate, I tell you.

"No problem," he said with an upward nod. He then drank some beer before turning back to his group.

As I walked away, I kept wondering if he let every baseball fan know the score or if he was the personal sportscaster I never knew I had. It was a little strange, but kind of cool.

Mueller Time

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Bill Mueller, Boston's likable third baseman and former Giant, had a historic performance yesterday. He hit grand slams from both sides of the plate, a feat never done before. Altogether, he had three home runs and nine runs batted in. If only I had been in Texas to see that game.

Pitch

Yesterday's oneword (a site I wrote about a while back) was pitch, which made me think of baseball and resulted in the following minute-long effort...

It isn't the way you throw
It's the way you pitch
Take the ball and hold it so
Hidden behind your glove
With your fingers like this
Pull back your arm and
Then hurl it forward
Releasing the ball
Remember
It's all about timing

This is also known as poetry in sixty seconds or fastball poetry.

STL 3, SF 8


Pacific Bell Park is a beautiful stadium full of modern amenities and adorned with plaques and statues honoring baseball in San Francisco. Exploring the park is almost as fun as watching the game itself. McCovey Point, on the other side of the cove, is a trip. It's also exciting to see the gradual revitalization around the park, as abandoned buildings are transformed into residences, retail shops and restaurants.

Enough gushing, here are ten things I want to remember about the game:

  1. The First Bassmen sang a great a cappella rendition of the national anthem.
  2. Rich Aurilia, Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago and Jason Schmidt didn't play.
  3. Jose Cruz, Jr. channeled Bonds' spirit and sent a 3-run splash hit into McCovey Cove.
  4. There are still way too many signs declaring J.T. Snow's hotness.
  5. The game took 2 hours and 49 minutes to play. The first two innings lasted an hour, as did both starting pitchers.
  6. I got a kick out of the big man, with the big bark, who sat a row in front of us.
  7. When Tony LaRussa and half of the Cardinals congregated on the pitching mound, the park politely played Presley's "A Little Less Conversation".
  8. After being ejected from the game, LaRussa spent another ten minutes arguing with the umpires.
  9. Mmm... garlic fries and a Marzen.
  10. In the eighth, Andres "Big Cat" Galarraga sent a massive pinch hit home run into the left field bleachers.

Baseball in San Francisco

Calvin: Hi Dad, it's me, Calvin. I just called to let you know it's a perfect day outside. Too bad you're trapped in a boring office while I'm running around free with no responsibilities! Have a good summer!

Reading Calvin & Hobbes always makes me smile. The one this morning was very appropriate. It's what I'll be thinking as I watch the Giants take on the Cardinals at Pacific Bell Park today. I'm hoping Bonds will hit another 470+ foot home run or at least foul something off in my direction.

Happiness is being at the ballpark on a weekday afternoon.

500-500 for Bonds

Barry Bonds stole another base last night. He became the only player in baseball history to hit 500 home runs and steal 500 bases. Bonds has been blessed with the extremely rare combination of power, speed and longevity. His stolen base helped the Giants beat the Dodgers, keeping San Francisco in first place.

Friday Softball

The softball game on Friday went well for our team. We won 12-2 in four innings, quitting early to enjoy the post-game picnic. I avoided the veggie burger and had a healthy hot dog instead.

I was shifted from shortstop to third base, but still led off the batting order. Before stepping to the plate, I joked that I'd probably go hitless. Then I went hitless. My ego was bruised, but I got over it quickly.

I ran into a former high school classmate, who was playing for the opposing team. It brightened my day when we had a chance to chat. Afterwards, a few of us stopped by Banana Crepe, a little place in Japantown, for some smoothies and pearl tea.

It was a good way to spend Friday, I only wish I had more days like it.

Cubs and Yankees

On Saturday, the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees played an extraordinary game at Wrigley Field. It was the tenth time they had ever met. They battled in the 1932 and 1938 World Series with the Yankees sweeping both. The Cubs lost again on Friday. Could Chicago finally stop New York's streak?

The game featured two of today's best managers, Joe Torre and Dusty Baker. It also was a pitching duel between the legendary 40-year old Roger Clemens and the sensational 25-year old Kerry Wood.

They are the only two pitchers to ever strike out 20 batters in a game. Wood leads the league in strikeouts this year. Clemens is striving to be the 12th pitcher to win 300 games.

Softball Practice

Next Friday, our division will be playing another company team in a friendly game of softball. While I was away, the team decided to practice during yesterday's lunch hour. Since I came to work dressed in regular office attire (collared shirt, slacks, dress shoes), I had no intention of playing.

Any normal person would resist the persistent peer pressure, pass on the practice and agree to show up for next week's session in more appropriate attire. Since that's not me, I doffed the collared shirt for a Goofy t-shirt (no really, Goofy's face was on it), snatched my glove from a filing cabinet and grabbed an aluminum bat from my car trunk (that's what happens when I don't put things away).

Since I'm a huge baseball fan, most of my coworkers assume I play softball well. I effortlessly proved them wrong. I swing indiscriminately at any ball within reach of a wildly waved bat. In my repertoire is a golf swing for those pitches in danger of falling in front of the plate and a helicopter swing for everything above my head. Strange things happen when the ball and my glove attempt to meet.

Anyway, the team looked good in practice and ready to play. For health reasons, I hope next week's weather is cooler.

Being Robby Thompson

Before the San Francisco Giants had the great Jeff Kent, they had another solid second baseman named Robby Thompson. Unlike Kent, whose strength was the bat, Thompson's strength was the glove. He was the crucial pivot man between Jose Uribe and Will Clark in turning double plays and a clubhouse leader with an optimistic outlook.

Realistically, he will probably never make it into the Hall of Fame, but I will remember him for three reasons:

  1. He was one of the first professional baseball players I ever met. I was thirteen years old and one of many kids who received his autographed photo.
  2. He always seemed to be the potential last out of many games. I remember more times than not, he would freeze at the plate, with a two strike count, and watch the third strike sail by while his bat remained poised to swing. It was an awful way to end a game.
  3. In 1993, he was hit in the face by a pitch that fractured his left cheekbone. Despite the severe injury, it was his best year in the majors. Unfortunately, it was also his last full season. He would retire three years later, at the age of 34, having spent all 11 years of his major league career with the Giants.

He is an example of who I hope and fear I am. Hopefully, I'm someone who exhibits optimism and dependability. At the same time, I fear I'm the guy who gets caught looking at the plate, unable to swing at a perfectly good pitch.

Foggy Baseball

In baseball, rain delays are pretty common, but I've never heard of a fog delay. Yesterday, the Oakland Athletics played in Chicago against the White Sox. The game had to be delayed twice. One run scored because of a fly ball, lost in the fog, that fell for a triple. It must have been a pretty comical scene...

Heavy fog has rolled into the park and the visibility is horrible. The pitcher fires the baseball in the general direction of home plate. The batter hears the screaming seams of the fastball and blindly swings away as the umpire asks, "Strike?"

The outfielders react to the crack of the bat. Looking up in the sky, the right fielder runs forward and suddenly stops.

Right Fielder: Do you see it?
Center Fielder: Huh? Who said that? Lee, is that you?
Lee: No, I'm right here.

The hitter rounds what he thinks is first base. Random fans try to help the fielders with shouts of "Over there!", "To your right!", "Behind you!" and "Hey, watch where you point that finger!" Looking around wildly, the right fielder shouts, "I don't see it! Cripes! I don't see the ball!"

On the base path, the hitter trips over second base and makes an abrupt left turn. The center fielder puts his glove up to his ear and says, "Wait! I think I hear something." Dropping behind both outfielders, the ball skitters and bounces off the wall.

Ball: Plipt-pit-pit-pit-pit... whump!
Center Fielder: Oh, there it is.

The right fielder grabs the ball and throws it back to the infield or at least away from the fence. Unsure of what's going on, the runner makes a hard slide into third.

Third Baseman: That's not third, that's my foot.
Runner: Sorry, my bad. Where's the base again?

Millwood's No-Hitter

Kevin Millwood pitched his first no-hitter over the weekend as the Philadelphia Phillies beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0. He faced 29 batters, only two more than the minimum.

No-hitters always amaze me. I can't imagine how nervous a pitcher becomes once he realizes the potential achievement. The pressure mounts with each successive out. The fielders handle every ball with extra care. Superstitions suddenly seem less ridiculous. When it gets down to the final out, everybody holds his or her breath, silently rooting him on, even if he's on the opposing team. And when he succeeds, the crowd cheers with relief and exhilaration.

Today, Millwood must be riding a major high.

Time For Baseball

I really missed it. Back is the split finger fastball, the sweet swing of the bat, the blazing speed of a base stealer, the raw power of a home run hitter, the finesse of a control pitcher and the astounding leap of an outfielder. Another season marks the chance for new rookies to rise and old records to fall.

I'm so glad a new season has begun. I'm smiling, can you tell? The San Francisco Giants won their season opener last night and the Oakland Athletics open tonight. Baseball is underway!

Another Season

Another Major League Baseball season is less than a month away. Spring Training has been underway for a couple of weeks and pre-season games started only two days ago.

Of major concern to die-hard Giants fans, I'm sure, is how the team will do this year under the new skipper, Felipe Alou. Will Barry Bonds stay healthy enough to repeat his MVP season at the ripe old age of 38? Can San Francisco recreate a winning season with some veterans who may be past their prime (read Benito Santiago and Andres Galarraga)? Will the beautiful Pacific Bell Park be renamed SBC Park, or will someone come to their senses and give it a real name?

For everybody else, the news of another season only brings stifled yawns and mild exclamations like, "Oh God, not again!" For me, it is exciting that baseball is just around the corner.

Heartbreaker

The heartbreaker of Sunday was the Giants losing the World Series to the Angels in Game 7. Everything felt fine until the seventh inning of Game 6, when Anaheim hit that critical three-run home run. At that very moment, I felt this wave of impending doom wash over me and I just couldn't bear to watch anymore.

The negatives from this series...
  • the Giants lost
  • illogically, their loss has bummed me out and I feel bitter
  • this was most likely Barry Bonds' first and last chance for a World Series ring
  • the deafening thunder sticks and the wild rally monkey will be back next season
The positives (yes, they exist)...
  • according to baseball experts (whoever they are), the Giants were the least likely postseason team to make it to the World Series
  • the Giants won 3 games, including the 16 run Angels clobbering
  • Bonds did make it to a World Series
  • Bonds walked 13 times, had 4 home runs, and was on base 70% of the time
  • a California team still won, showing that West Coast baseball teams rock

World Series: Game 5

Game 5 of the World Series was huge for the Giants, with a 16-4 win. Jeff Kent came out of his postseason slump and blasted two two-run homers. It initially looked like the Angels were going to make a trademark comeback, but the Giants responded by widening the lead.

It should be noted that San Francisco doesn't have a rally monkey. Instead, it has the rally chicken. Fans twirl a rubber chicken above their heads whenever the opposition walks Barry Bonds. Said twirling is usually accompanied by an appropriate chicken dance.

Game 6 is tomorrow, back in Anaheim. I am really hoping that the Giants can pull it off. They haven't won a World Series in 48 years (that would be since 1954 for you math buffs) and have never won since moving to San Francisco.

Giants Win the Pennant!

Song on my mind... "I Feel Good" by James Brown

Some years back, it was the San Francisco Giants' theme song. Tonight's victory got me thinking back to 1989, the last time the Giants had been to the World Series. That series was nicknamed the Bay Bridge series or Earthquake series, when the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake struck. The Oakland A's swept the Giants that year.

Today was a rather ordinary day. The weather was fine and I was fine, but it is amazing how a simple baseball game can transform ordinary into exhilarating and memorable. The Giants' victory over the Cardinals was today's moment. San Francisco somehow eliminated St. Louis in five games.

Matt Morris, the Cardinal pitcher, had allowed only one run the entire game, masterfully silencing Giants hitting. The game was tied 1-1 going into the ninth inning and there were two outs. David Bell and Shawon Dunston hit back to back singles. Tony LaRussa, the former A's manager, brought in Steve Kline to face Kenny Lofton. Lofton stroked the first pitch he saw into right field, Bell raced around third and slid headfirst across home plate to win the game! Utterly awesome!!

Though the media had focused on Barry Bonds the entire postseason, it was guys like Rich Aurilia, Benito Santiago (the MVP), J.T. Snow, Felix Rodriguez and Tim Worrell that really caused trouble for Atlanta and St. Louis. It goes to show that the key to a winning team and winning effort is a combination of stars and everyday guys who work hard and work together.

Tickets to the 2002 World Series are going on sale Wednesday morning. Seat prices start at $60 for bleacher seats. I am seriously considering grabbing four seats, just in case it takes the Giants another 13 years to get here again.

Giants Clinch Division Series!

I must admit that I was stressing out last night over a simple baseball game. The Giants managed to make it to the National League Playoffs, despite Robb Nen's best effort to blow the save. Barry Bonds hit another home run and scored two runs to help eliminate Atlanta. It is off to St. Louis on Wednesday. Go G-Men!!

NLDS: Game 5

The highlight of the weekend came from Major League Baseball. The San Francisco Giants held off the Atlanta Braves to stay alive for Game 5 (thanks to Rich Aurilia and Livan Hernandez). Tonight, the Giants' Russ Ortiz (who bullied Atlanta in Game 1) faces the Braves' Millwood (who dominated SF in Game 2). Go Giants!!

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